Location: 368A Heady Hall
Description: Paul Glewwe
“What Explains Vietnam’s Exceptional Performance in Education Relative to Other Countries?”
Abstract: Vietnam’s achievements in terms of economic growth in the last 30 years have transformed it from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle income country. In more recent years, Vietnam’s accomplishments in education have also generated substantial international attention. Vietnam’s high performance in the “quantity” of education is exemplified by its high primary completion rate of 97%, and its high lower secondary enrollment rate of 92%. More striking still is Vietnam’s performance on the 2012 PISA assessment: It ranked 17th in math and 19th in reading out of 65 countries, ahead of both the US and the UK and much higher than any other developing country. This paper uses the PISA data to understand this unusually high performance. More specifically, it does three things. First, it compares the characteristics of the students in the PISA data with the characteristics of students enrolled in school in 2012 of the same age as the PISA students, to investigate whether the PISA students are representative of 15-year-old students in 2012. Second, it uses regression methods to investigate what family or school characteristics in the PISA data can “explain” the high performance of Vietnamese students. Third, it applies an Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition to better understand the difference in average test scores between Vietnamese students and students in the other countries that participated in the 2012 PISA assessment. The following tentative conclusions are drawn. First, it appears that the students in the PISA sample are more urban and also of higher socio-economic status than 15 year old students in the 2012 Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey (VHLSS). Second, household and school level variables in the PISA data do little to explain Vietnam’s higher performance on the 2012 PISA relative to its income level. Third, the Blinder-Oxaca decompositions indicate that the gap in average test scores between Vietnam and the other 62 countries primarily reflects greater “productivity” of household and school characteristics in Vietnam relative to the “productivity” in other countries.