The Stresses of Vietnam's Exam Season
By Kay Johnson
Time, Thursday, Jul. 12, 2007
A visitor to Hanoi University this month might be forgiven for thinking the tree-shaded campus was preparing for a riot. Moments after a school bell rings out, there is a grating sound as a tall, metal barricade is rolled into place. Dozens of police and uniformed security officials assume positions guarding the entrances to the campus, and students are searched for mobile phones and other forbidden objects as they enter classroom.
The reason for this heightened security on campus? It's exam time, and the authorities are taking extraordinary measures to guard against cheating on high-stakes university-entrance exams. When the testing concludes July 16, a total of 1.8 million would-be scholars will have taken the entry exam in the hope of landing one of only 300,000 spots in colleges nationwide. That pressure gives students an incentive to seek any edge they can. Hanoi's 940-year-old Temple of Literature has been jammed this month with exam-takers burning incense for good luck. Some students eat "lucky meals" of green beans for breakfast on the big day. (The word for bean also means "passing" in Vietnamese.)
Other students, though, seek help from more than green beans: In recent years, entrance-exam fraud has been highly publicized in local media. Last year, two dozen students were caught being fed answers through Bluetooth headsets concealed under wigs. Earlier this month, police busted a ring issuing fake IDs to university students who were to take the test for struggling prospective scholars. The price? $2,500 — more than twice Vietnam's average annual wage. In response to concerns over cheating, authorities have beefed up security, calling in local police and even the Public Security ministry to guard exam sites.
The lengths to which some students have gone to cheat their way into college reflect a wider crisis in Vietnam's higher education system, which hasn't grown...