Since the first appearance in Vietnam more than two decades ago, foreign schools have thrived in large cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.
The rising number of expats and local middle-income earners in the southern hub has led to the appearance of a number of new foreign schools.
Parents now have considerably more choices available to them in the search for an ideal learning environment for their children.
Ho Chi Minh City is currently home to 20 such institutions with more than 10,000 students, half of whom are Vietnamese children and teenagers, according to estimates by the municipal Department of Education and Training.
The first foreign school is the International School Ho Chi Minh City based in District 2.
Founded around two decades ago, the facility is committed to the long-term intellectual development of children born to foreign diplomats and entrepreneurs working in the metropolis.
They later set up another campus, also in District 2, to admit native students with more affordable tuition.
Most schools boast excellent infrastructure, with well-equipped classrooms, cutting-edge teaching aids, swimming pools, theaters, and function rooms.
The facilities are also surrounded with lush greenery, which allows students to be at one with nature, said to be more conducive to their balanced physical and mental growth.
Many parents are pleased with the schools’ atmosphere and amenities available for teaching, physical development and entertainment.
CIS's 12th graders studying abroad on a trip to Niagara Falls in the U.S. Courtesy of CIS
Regarding the curriculum, most schools in Ho Chi Minh City adopt Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and International Baccalaureate (IB), which are internationally-recognized education programs and qualifications for school students in many countries.
A number of schools select curricula utilized by states in the U.S., Australia and Canada.
For instance, the Canadian International School (CIS), situated in expat-heavy Phu My Hung in District 7, is the first international school to have a long-term comprehensive relationship with the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) in Ontario, Canada.
The collaboration helps CIS maintain its educational quality on a par with practices from the progressive Ontario public school system in the North American country.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, those which adopt foreign curricula for subjects are required to teach social subjects including Vietnamese, literature, history and geography in observance of Vietnamese programs.
Apart from granting internal-use certificates at elementary and middle school levels, many schools are licensed by global accreditation organizations of which they are members to issue internationally-recognized high school diplomas such as IB and Cambridge IGCSE, the department added.
The comprehensive curricula allow students to achieve academic excellence, think outside the box, acquire soft skills and character traits they will need to grow up into dynamic, creative, and caring citizens.
With all of these benefits to offer, international schools charge exorbitant tuition that can only be afforded by middle- and high-incomers.
A survey by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters revealed fees range from VND22-55 million (US$956-2,390), VND28-58 million ($1,217-2,521) to VND33-60 million ($1,434-2,608) per month for elementary, middle and high school students respectively.
Educational experts have observed the ongoing trend that schools with foreign elements are expanding to target more Vietnamese students.
The British International School has recently opened BVIS to draw native children.
CIS now offers bilingual programs while the International School Ho Chi Minh City launched its American Academy to expand their local share.
The trend is also visible in the central city of Da Nang though international schools have not proliferated as much as they have in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Realizing the surge in demand for giving their children a world-class education, among well-off parents, Singapore’s KinderWorld, the first to enter Da Nang, established an educational complex comprising Singapore International School (SIS) and Pegasus International University (PIU) in Ngu Hanh Son District in November 2011.
SIS has a current enrolment of over 600 Vietnamese and international students from 28 countries.
Trinh Thi Thu, PIU principal, revealed that the university has attracted more than 2,500 students, most of whom come from Da Nang, neighboring provinces and even Ho Chi Minh City.
Tuition for the bilingual programs costs upwards of VND109 million ($4,737), VND185 million ($8,040) and VND206 million ($8,953) per year for kindergarten, elementary and middle school students, according to N.Q.V., whose son has been studying at SIS from kindergarten to middle school grades.
A young student at the British International School Hanoi has her face painted for a festival held at the campus. Courtesy of BIS Hanoi
Similarly, Asia Pacific University (APU) put into operation its American University in Vietnam, the first American-style university in the Southeast Asian country, which kicked off its first academic year in August 2016.
Breaking ground in 2010, the APU has established relationships with the University of Missouri, Kansas City, campuses of California State University, the State University of New York and other top colleges and universities, according to the university’s website.
With total investment of nearly VND3.2 trillion ($143.5 million), the university covers 32 hectares and has modern facilities and faculty members with high credentials, Tran Nguyen Thy Binh, APU chairperson, said.
The school has so far enrolled 200 high school students and 50 university ones, with degree course tuition averaging more than VND300 million ($13,037).
Officials from the municipal Department of Education and Training revealed that a Canadian group is working to launch a high school modeled on the Canadian approach in Da Nang.
Nguyen Dinh Vinh, department director, said that the trend has created diversity to the local education environment, and offered more choices to affluent parents who want the best education experience for their children.
However, experts have warned about the worrying prospect that Vietnamese students at such schools tend to feel more comfortable speaking English than their mother tongue, which poses the potential difficulty that they cannot communicate effectively with their own family.
They also advised parents to thoroughly examine the schools’ legal basis and certification before enrolling their children as a few facilities have ‘cried wine and sold vinegar.’