STEAM Education in Vietnam: Prospects and Drawbacks *


This article uses materials from the panel discussion on STEAM Education in Vietnam, which was organized by Fulbright’s F-Green student club in April 2019 at Fulbright University Vietnam.

Following the success of the first STEAM Talk, F-Green, a student club at Fulbright University Vietnam, organized their second event of the series: a panel discussion on the prospects and drawbacks when implementing STEAM Education in Vietnam.

The discussion was moderated by a Fulbright student with the participation of three prominent speakers: Dr. Bui The Duy – Deputy Minister of Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr. Tran Minh Triet – Assistant Dean of University of Science, and Dr. Ryan Derby-Talbot – Chief Academic Officer (CAO) of Fulbright University Vietnam.

Is STEAM education important?

Dr. Bui The Duy has always been proud of his Mathematics background and that he graduated from Vietnam National University (VNU), the top science school in Vietnam. Deputy Minister Duy’s breadth of accomplishments can hardly be equaled. 

In high school, Duy won the bronze medal at the International Olympiad in Informatics in two consecutive years, 1995 in the Netherlands and 1996 in Hungary. His achievements did not stop there. Duy completed his bachelor’s degree and doctorate just within six years; he was only 26 years old. At 31, Duy became the youngest Associate Professor in Informatics and the Dean of School of Computer Science – University of Engineering and Technology, a member university of VNU. 

Dr. Duy’s success inspires many Vietnamese students to follow his footsteps. It appears that the focus on STEM subjects in Vietnamese high schools is helping students achieve similar success because Vietnamese students have a long tradition of being hugely successful at international science competitions. However, experts think otherwise. 

Dr. Bui The Duy – Deputy Minister of Ministry of Science and Technology

Deputy Minister Duy shared his concern at the event that Vietnamese students, while possessing tangible academic medals, still lack important skills such as creativity and leadership. According to Dr. Duy, the lack of other useful skills makes Vietnamese graduates less competitive in the job market than Western graduates, even in the fields Vietnamese students excel at such as science and technology. 

“In the division of labor, Vietnamese workforce belongs to the most labor-intensive part – the execution phase, which only yields 20% of the total revenue. Those who initiate, create, and advise the solution for the client’s problem receive the other 80% of the revenue while working less hours,” Dr. Duy explained. 

Deputy Minister Duy also stressed that STEM-/STEAM-focused education is vital for a country to thrive further. The question is how we can implement it efficiently. At the moment, Dr. Bui The Duy believes that Vietnam has been left behind in the development race. 

“STEM/STEAM education is an important foundation for Vietnam to step up the game, especially when science and technology is now encompassing various industries in lightning speed,” he emphasized. 

STEAM: What are the risks in new opportunities?

Dr. Ryan Derby-Talbot, Fulbright’s CAO, believes that we should discuss STEAM education both in terms of risks and opportunities. STEAM educated students are the future’s game-changing player in the technology and science fields.

With great impacts, there comes great social responsibility. It is important for STEAM educated students to possess a human-centered mindset to create more opportunities for growth and sustainability. On the other hand, focusing only on technology advancement and neglecting the humanity aspects will pose as risks for the society. 

According to Fulbright’s CAO, STEAM education should not be taught as five individual subjects. The right approach is to use Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points to teach students different competencies, including critical and creative thinking, collaboration, inquiry, communication, and analytical reasoning. 

The Assistant Dean of University of Science, Dr. Tran Minh Triet, shared that STEAM education has become popular in Vietnam. Yet, there has yet to be a clear teaching method for STEAM in the current school system. Vietnamese teachers come from different academic background and are not properly trained to teach STEM/STEAM as an educational approach. 

While there are still different debates on the implementation of STEAM education, Dr. Triet and Dr. Derby-Talbot shared the same view on the end results. With STEAM education approach, students can become individuals who are not afraid to take risks, engage in experiential learning, be creative and collaborative in forming new ideas or solving problems, and embrace interdisciplinarity. 

“The end results of education are not the grades an open-, growth-mindset and a strong set of skills. This requires teachers to become mentors throughout the learning journey,” Dr. Triet emphasized. 

Dr. Ryan Derby-Talbot – Chief Academic Officer (CAO) of Fulbright University Vietnam

Shifting the old mindset

According to Dr. Derby-Talbot, to successfully implement STEAM education, the educators need to change their mindset on how different subjects should be taught. Instead of presenting new knowledge to students, teachers may use real life problems/questions as antecedents to help students learn a concept. 

This is also an approach that Fulbright faculty are embracing. For example, in the Co-Design Year, Fulbright students had to take the Scientific Inquiry, one of the seven core courses. This course teaches students not only scientific knowledge, but also the way a scientist thinks and solves a scientific problem.

The professors do not provide answers or make students memorize specific formulas; they guide students to find the answers for themselves. This way, students can learn how to navigate through the “mess” and improve their problem-solving skill. 

Dr. Tran Minh Triet – Assistant Dean of University of Science

Dr. Derby-Talbot emphasized that what sets Fulbright apart is experiential learning. Fulbright students learn from real experience by working on real projects. This will help hone their skills and prepare them for future challenges in the work environment. 

“The grades alone cannot fully assess a student’s ability. A project, however, can show different skillsets a student possesses from the idea formulation stage, to the execution stage,” Fulbright’s CAO shared. 

Dr. Bui The Duy also agreed that education should shift from knowledge-based to competencies-based. In fact, the Ministry of Education and Training is exploring different methods to bring STEM/STEAM education into the curriculum, and teach Math and Physics in English, etc.

“STEM/STEAM education is the priority for Vietnam to nurture a young generation who can help Vietnam catch up with the world,” he said. Some universities in Vietnam is experimenting competencies-based approach by introducing a capstone project instead of an end-of-term exam. 

However, grading a project requires more time and effort than grading an exam while faculty’s salary remains the same. Thus, they only apply the capstone project in their curriculum when forced. Dr. Bui The Duy suggested that universities may consider tying the project with research work; this way, faculty may become more engaged. 

Nguyen Huu Phuc Ngan – the host of Panel discussion

Dr. Bui The Duy also emphasized that we should not treat STEM/STEAM education as a trend. Faculty need to be properly trained to change from knowledge-based teaching to competencies-based teaching. Knowledge and competencies should be interwoven in a way that students can be best prepared for the everchanging world in the future. 

Linh Vu

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