In 1945, 90 percent of Vietnam’s population was illiterate. When the new communist leadership came to power, it set the elimination of illiteracy as one of its primary objectives. Although this goal has not yet been reached, enormous progress has been made. By 2000, Vietnam’s literacy rate stood at 95 percent, substantially above the levels in countries with comparable incomes per capita. During the first postwar decades, the government made large investments in literacy campaigns and placed a primary school in every community. During those years, primary and lower secondary school pupils neither paid fees nor bought textbooks –which they borrowed from the school library. As a result, and despite the tightness of funds, impressive progress was made in expanding access to education, thereby laying the foundation for universal primary education. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the onset of doi moi policies of economic liberalization, there seems to have been a deterioration in the quality of education accompanied by high dropout rates and an ensuing decline in enrollment rates in lower and upper secondary education. 2 Primary education enrollment rates, on the other hand, increased steadily throughout the decade. Between 1992/93 and 1997/98, per capita public spending on education increased more than threefold aided by economic growth and the high priority placed by the Vietnamese government on the sector. Moreover, over the decade, government expenditure was reallocated from higher to primary and lower secondary education, leading to a doubling of expenditure on primary education, improved targeting of public expenditure on education to the poor, and to an increase in net enrollment rates in primary education from 80-86 percent to nearly 94 percent. A participatory poverty assessment carried out in 2001 showed that infrastructure was perceived to have improved over the 1990s and to have become more physically accessible. 3 Finally, indicators of the quality of primary education also improved, with repetition and dropout rates declining from 12 to 3 and from 9 to 5 percent respectively.
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