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Huynh, HTN 2016, 'Teachers’ perceptions of child-centred education and its potential in supporting Jrai ethnic minority primary students in Gia Lai, Viet Nam', PhD thesis, southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright HTN Huynh 2016

Note: Thesis lodged August 2015, degree awarded 2016


Vietnam is a country of 54 ethnic groups, each with its own language, lifestyle and culture. Due to their geographical distribution, the ethnic minorities have inadequate access to infrastructure and services, and are amongst the poorest and least educated sections of Vietnamese society.

Education is considered a top national policy in Vietnam and is viewed as a critical means of meeting the social and economic challenges facing the country. Having achieved high levels of enrolment and participation in primary schooling, recent reforms have focused on improving educational quality. In 2000 the Vietnamese government introduced a nation-wide policy and a new curriculum promoting what has come to be referred to as ‘child-centred’ teaching and learning. However, what specifically is understood as ‘child-centred’ education (CCE), not only in Vietnam but also in international contexts, is not clear.

To be effectively implemented, teachers need to understand, value and perceive benefits to any policy. Implementing such change is particularly difficult in rural and remote areas, where recruitment of appropriate teachers is problematic, teacher quality and motivation is low and in-service training and professional development is difficult to provide. There is a paucity of empirical research on the childcentred approach and how it is being applied at a primary education level in Vietnam. Yet this innovative teaching method has the potential to create a safe and friendly learning environment which encourages students to collaborate and engage actively in the learning process.

This research aimed to better understand primary school teachers’ experiences and perceptions of child-centred education, focusing especially on teachers working with Jrai ethnic minority primary students in Gia Lai Province, Vietnam. The research employed hermeneutic phenomenology to develop rich descriptions of teachers’ understandings and interpretations of CCE and their “lived experience” of the policy in this remote rural area of Vietnam. Individual and group interviews were conducted with 27 primary school teachers from three schools, and with three principals and a lecturer from the Teacher Training College in Gia Lai, Vietnam. Data were analysed through an inductive thematic approach using NVivo.

The study concludes that a child-centred approach has the potential to be more affirming of ethnic minority children’s identities and more sensitive to their circumstances, including their cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds. It also has potential to deliver more authentic, personally relevant and practical learning for these children, with immediate benefits for their families and broader communities. However, even though all participant teachers do have such personal understandings and beliefs about CCE and its value in the Vietnamese context, only a small number are committed to implementing it. Most participating teachers had not embraced CCE as an educational philosophy that places children at the centre of their teaching practice. Rather, they viewed CCE as a policy directive with an emphasis on specific teaching methods. In addition, there is incongruence in understandings of CCE at the systemic level and there remains inconsistencies and tensions in resourcing, curriculum and assessment which hinders the implementation of CCE.

The study contributes to our understanding of teachers’ perceptions of CCE in the Vietnamese context. The findings highlight inconsistencies in understanding of the nature, value and practice of CCE amongst interviewed primary teachers. The research shows how definitions of CCE can vary considerably between contexts and that there can be a disjunction between understandings embodied in policy and understandings implemented in practice.

The findings, therefore, suggest that in order to achieve a closer alignment between policy and practice and to support school teachers to implement CCE effectively at the classroom level, MOET and other educational policy makers need to revisit fundamental understandings of CCE, taking account of those understandings which are situated in the local Vietnamese context.