Vietnamese students' surprising performance on a recent test does not tell the whole story, Tran Xuan Nhi, former Deputy Minister of Education and Training, told Radio the Voice of Vietnam.

* Do you think the test results accurately reflect the capacity of our students?

When the results were announced, we were surprised. Our students were ranked 8th in science, 17th in mathematics and 19th in reading. Students from 65 countries participated in the test. Before I retired, I was one of a few people who were assigned to follow our students as they compete in international tests of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and others. I should say I was very proud of our students' performances, particularly in mathematics.

The 2012 PISA test was taken by some 510,000 students (who were 15 years old) from randomly-selected schools in 65 countries. However, when we talk about the quality of our education, we should refer to students from all levels. Frankly speaking, the quality of our education is far below that of many countries.

* Should we continue to reserve special efforts to train and foster talented students, as at present?

No one can negate that our students are very intelligent, particularly in natural subjects. Quite a few of our students have received high awards in international tests. And of course, these students have received special training and special treatment, just like "pedigreed fighting cocks."

In my point of view, we should give equal treatment to both the general education and the talented students. However, the talented students will serve as a driving engine, encouraging other students to follow. They are the promoters for development. For example, in our neighbouring country, Singapore, some dozens of years ago, they were at the same level as us. But now they have advanced much faster than we have, as they have possessed many talented people and, what is more important, the Singapore leaders know how to use their talented people.

I don't think we don't have talented people. But what's important is how to use them for our national development and how they are treated. These two questions are very important.

Quite a few young Vietnamese students have excelled in their studies abroad. But what should we do to attract them to come back to the homeland to serve the nation and help the country to become rich? That's the most important issue. In the meantime, we have to find ways to improve the quality of our general education. I'm confident that when the quality of the general education is improved, we will have more talented people.

* Many parents of the "pedigreed fighting cocks" have expressed their anxiety about their children's imbalanced knowledge, particularly social knowledge since they have spent most of their time training for taking tests. What do you think about that?

Of course, these students have to train to take tests. But I think that in their time table, the trainers should allocate time for social subjects. As we all know, comprehensive education is very important for students. General knowledge is very important for everybody. In addition to knowledge, we have to teach them life skills. Good knowledge and good life skills will enable them to enter life comfortably and confidently.

* More recently, Pham Vu Luan, Minister of Education and Training, said that in the near future social subjects such as literature, history and geography will be combined into a "package." Do you think that's the right way to go for our general education?

I couldn't agree more!

In Singapore, for example, right from primary school, mathematics, English and their mother tongues are the three main subjects that students focus on, while the other subjects are integrated into a package. However, such an integration does not mean they are not important. When the students learn geography of a country, they have to inquire into information relating to important events of that country, including famous people and cultural traditions and other things. As is the case, when students learn about the 1954 Dien Bien Phu Victory, they should not only talk about history, geography or literature, but combine them in one topic - the Dien Bien Phu. I support the idea of combining the three subjects - literature, history and geography into one package.

* The 8th Plenum of the Party Central Committee has adopted a Resolution on the basic and comprehensive reform of our general education. In your opinion, how should we turn that resolution into reality?

To turn the Party Resolution into reality, we need specific policies. For example, the content about general knowledge should state clearly that all students have to complete the general knowledge at the lower secondary school. When they go into the senior secondary school, the students should be provided knowledge to sit for university entrance exams or vocational education exams.

Regarding the issue of public and private schools, the government should come up with policies to harmonise the two educational models, not to let one model develop at the detriment of the other. I pin my hope and will follow closely the implementation of the Party Central Committee's Resolution on the basic and comprehensive reform of our general education.-VNA