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Implementing democratic education in Vietnamese schools

Tinh Le (PhD at ICLON) researched the impact of confucian culture and socialist beliefs on stakeholders' beliefs about democratic education and its implementation in Vietnamese secondary schools. Defence on 29 November.

Teacher as centre of the classroom

The Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training considers promoting a democratic learning environment as a fundamental mission in the latest educational reform in Vietnam. But what does a democratic school look like? How do we promote a democratic learning environment at the grassroots? Stakeholders (i.e., school leaders, teachers, students, and parents) in Vietnamese schools might be puzzled by the reform toward the democratization of education because they could feel the reform may conflict with the Confucian culture in Vietnam, where the teacher is believed to be the centre of the classroom.

Tinh Le’s dissertation aims to provide a critical view of Vietnamese secondary school stakeholders’ awareness of democratic education regarding the core educational democratic values and democratic acts within either the ‘physical’ or digital learning environment.

Towards a democratic school: experiences and viewpoints of stakeholders in Vietnamese secondary schools

Respect for hierarchy

With semistructured interviews Tinh Le explored principals’, teachers’ and students’ beliefs with regard to educational democratic values and their manifestation in school. She also used an open questionnaire to collect students’ views on hypothetical conflict situations.

Tinh Le found that the participants’ Confucian cultural background influenced how they perceive and practice democracy in their schools. Every family in Vietnam has a sense of hierarchy, and children are expected to respect their parents and grandparents. The deep imprint of the hierarchical structure model displayed in each family is a solid foundation for each Vietnamese teacher and student to respect the school hierarchy.

The findings of the empirical studies also revealed that background culture might be a critical factor in explaining why students responded differently in different roles to hypothetical conflict situations. This finding could be explained by perceptions of the nature of teacher-student relationships in the Asian cultural context. Vietnamese schools place a high value on teachers’ authority, which is associated with good leadership. As a result, to compromise may not be the preferred option for teachers. In this study, students perceived that Vietnamese cultural values support them to accommodate or compromise rather than oppose or integrate into a conflict with their teachers.


The dissertation findings suggest that developing an educational value system is required to complement the implementation of grassroots democracy in Vietnamese secondary schools. Depending on the local culture and school vision, public schools need to determine the core educational democratic values and democratic acts proactively and flexibly. Commitment to these values should be coherently reflected in school regulations, policies and development strategies. Second, modules on conflict management skills and digital citizenship in the general education curriculum are necessary to help Vietnamese students acquire sufficient knowledge and skills to participate in physical and digital learning environments.

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