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### Initiating the Academic Pursuit: Vietnam’s Competitive Journey to Elite Schools

On March 9, entrance examinations were held at two middle schools in Hanoi, namely Ngoi Sao Ha Noi-Hoang Mai and the Archimedes. Bui Thi Hue, a resident of Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District, allowed her son to attempt both exams.

Following the completion of the math, literature, and English tests at the Archimedes, Hue’s son developed a mild fever. Subsequently, they traveled 7 km back home, had a meal, rested for approximately 10 minutes, and then proceeded to the afternoon examination session at Ngoi Sao.

“After finishing the math test at the second school, my son felt fatigued and had to rest in the infirmary, preventing him from participating in the remaining two tests,” Hue explained.

Nguyen Ngoc Thu, residing in Dong Da District, expressed concerns about the limited time allocated for lunch and transitioning between test sites, deeming it somewhat rushed.

Despite worries about her child’s stamina due to the tight schedule, Thu was relieved to see them perform well in the exams.

“My child found the math test at the Archimedes more challenging with 40 questions to be completed in 60 minutes,” Thu remarked, noting that this was a basic test, with a more advanced version scheduled later in the month.

Elite Selection Process

Hue and Thu are just two of the many parents striving to secure admission for their children into the 6th grade at prestigious middle schools in Vietnam’s capital.

In recent years, a list of renowned secondary schools in Hanoi has been circulating among parents, featuring top schools that excel in academic competitions and have a track record of students entering specialized high schools.

These institutions offer specialized programs focusing on mathematics, sciences, and English language education, often incorporating curricula from the U.S. or the U.K.

Apart from the aforementioned private schools, the list includes other esteemed institutions such as Hanoi-Amsterdam, the Foreign Language Secondary School, and schools in Cau Giay, Thanh Xuan, and Nam Tu Liem Districts.

Most of these schools conduct entrance exams in June, assessing candidates in math, literature, and English.

This year, Ngoi Sao Ha Noi-Hoang Mai school received over 1,000 applicants vying for roughly 270 spots in the 6th grade across eight classes.

Meanwhile, at the Archimedes, more than 3,000 students participated in the March 9 examination. Although the school did not disclose the admission numbers, its primary facility in Trung Yen typically accommodates around 10 classes for the 6th grade, admitting fewer than 500 students.

With the exception of the Amsterdam school, tuition fees at these institutions, whether public or private, range from VND3-9 million ($120-360) per month, excluding additional charges. In contrast, a standard public secondary school for local students costs only VND300,000 monthly.

Thu and Hue aim to enroll their children in these schools due to their proficiency in mathematics and English, believing that such institutions offer greater opportunities for academic advancement compared to conventional education programs.

To prepare their children for the entrance exams, Hue and her husband have been actively involved in guiding their child’s academic journey since primary school.

Their son began studying English in the first grade and attended supplementary math and literature classes in the fourth grade, each session costing between VND200,000-250,000.

“If he hadn’t taken these additional math and literature classes, he wouldn’t have coped with the exams,” Hue emphasized, noting the distinct test formats at each school.

Similarly, Thu has enrolled her child in extra classes for math, literature, and English since the third grade. In addition to these classes, Thu collects school materials and past exam papers for her child to practice.

High Expectations

The competition for coveted 6th-grade spots in Hanoi reflects parents’ aspirations for their children, including the desire for smaller class sizes.

A primary school principal highlighted the issue of overcrowded classrooms in certain districts, where class sizes exceed the recommended limit of 45 students per class.

For the 2024-2025 academic year, Hanoi anticipates over 246,000 6th-grade students, a significant increase from the previous year.

Concerned about crowded classrooms and teacher attention, many parents opt for high-quality or private schools with smaller class sizes of around 30 students.

Additionally, parents seek secondary schools with high rates of high school admissions to give their children a competitive edge.

For instance, during the last high school entrance exam, Cau Giay Secondary School students achieved an average score of 4350, with approximately 500 students gaining admission to specialized schools.

Pham Hiep, an education innovation researcher, supports parents’ decisions to pursue top schools, including private institutions, based on their educational philosophies and willingness to invest in their children’s education.

Tran Nhat Minh, founder of the MathExpress club, emphasized the positive influence of carefully selected and trained students in prestigious schools, fostering an environment conducive to academic growth.

However, Minh cautioned against pushing children into top schools prematurely, as some students may struggle to keep up with the rigorous demands.

Teachers stress the importance of instilling a strong work ethic in students, guiding them based on their abilities and family circumstances, regardless of the school they attend.

In Hue’s case, she plans for her son to apply to the Foreign Language Secondary School and other institutions to maximize his chances of accessing a conducive learning environment.

On the other hand, Thu adopts a stress-free approach for her child’s exam preparation, prioritizing a balanced mindset during the process.