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Train them young: IELTS training for kids popular among Vietnamese parents



By definition, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is meant for candidates who apply for higher education or academia. Nevertheless, well-to-do parents in Vietnam are preparing their children for IELTS tests in a bid to secure them spots at top K-12 facilities – all while they have barely graduated elementary school.

In recent years, the IELTS certificate has emerged as a new norm for English proficiency assessment in Vietnam, with top colleges and high schools accepting the test results during their evaluation of candidates. 

The test results have even been adopted by a middle school, which just announced that candidates applying for grade six will get 20 bonus points in evaluation if they score in the 3.0 band or above on the IELTS test. 

Burning through money

Minh Hieu, 36, a parent in Thu Duc City under Ho Chi Minh City, has been scrambling to find an IELTS prep class for her son during his summer break. 

As a recent outbreak in Vietnam forced his school to shutter in early May, his summer break started a few weeks earlier than expected, which, as Hieu sees it, is more time for her kid to reach the goal of band 5.0 on the IELTS test before the next school year. 

He has just turned eleven, which may sound too early for the English paper.

Nevertheless, Hieu is committed when it comes to her plan, as it would engender ‘a great leap’ for her child to enter a good middle school.  

“I have thought it all out,” she said.

“With an overall score of 5.0 in IELTS, my son would not have to worry about the English subject at school. 

“It only takes three months in the summer, but he gets exemption [from English classes] for the next four years.”

After weighing up between three IELTS centers in Thu Duc City and Binh Thanh District, Hieu finally opted for an ‘intensive class’ with six hours of lessons per day, five days a week for three months. 

More specifically, students would have to sit in front of the computer for three hours in the morning from 8:00 am for grammar, vocabulary, and reading practices, then show up in the actual classroom for another three hours of listening, speaking, and writing lessons in the evening. 

For the price of no less than VND50 million (US$2,200), the intensive program promises IELTS test results of 5.0 and above for all students by the end of the course. 

In a similar fashion, Ngoc Duyen, 45, parent of a seventh-grader in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, has registered her kid for private tutoring sessions with an American teacher living in Vung Tau City. 

Duyen’s objective is clear: her kid needs to achieve IELTS band 5.0 by the next school year and band 6.5 one year later to qualify for high school programs abroad. 

If her child fails to get a scholarship to fly out of Vietnam, the IELTS score would still be of great help for him in domestic K-12 study, Duyen added.


Pre-empting a surge in demand for IELTS training for kids, English centers in major cities have launched ‘pre-IELTS’ programs, or other prep courses to provide foundational knowledge for students before the main lessons. 

The majority of these courses last three to six months, with a focus on grammar and vocabulary.

They may cost each student VND3-8 million ($130-346) depending on the popularity of training centers, teachers, and class intensity. 

During a phone call with a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter, a telemarketer of an English center in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City advertised their pre-IELTS program as one based on the ‘Cambridge’ curriculum, pivoting toward building foundational knowledge for kids before future IELTS tests.

Students graduating from the course can proceed to an actual IELTS training program that promises band 7.0-7.5 on the IELTS test for learners. 

“IELTS is getting more advantageous as it is favored by many universities during their admission assessment,” the telemarketer claimed.

“An IELTS certificate also exempts students from the English test during the high school entrance exam.”

However, the test itself is not recommended for individuals under 16 years old, as stated by the British Council, co-owner and organizer of the IELTS exam in Vietnam.

Echoing the sentiment, Nguyen Duc Thinh, 27, winner of British Council’s IELTS Prize in 2019, advised against subjecting students to training for the IELTS test too early. 

The test demands not only good speaking and pronunciation skills, but also an understanding of social issues, spanning from law, the environment to public health, among others, during the speaking and writing tests, which may put inexperienced adolescents at a disadvantage. 

Phung Quang Huy, 25, an IELTS prep teacher in Hanoi, also cautioned parents on the risk of sending their children to IELTS training without establishing foundational knowledge for them.

Without a solid basis, these students would turn to test-taking tips and tricks, which may stump them in further efforts to learn the language. 

“Students can already amass a decent understanding of lexicon and grammar with English lessons at their school,” Huy said.

“They should start thinking about sitting the IELTS exam in late middle school or early high school.”

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Vietnamese foreign language center owes teachers’ payment for two years



Teachers at a foreign language center in Vietnam have recently complained that the establishment has failed to settle their remuneration payments for nearly two years.

Having many branches in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Binh Duong and Dong Nai Provinces, and central Da Nang City, the Saigon Vina Foreign Language Center (SGV) signs contracts with teachers for short-term courses, lasting less than three months each, with remuneration payment supposed to be made at the end of the courses.

However, many teachers have complained that they have not been paid for nearly two years.

S., a teacher at a SGV branch in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, said he had repeatedly asked the center to pay up, but all he received were empty promises.

The center kept postponing the payment date, claiming that there was no source of income.

Meanwhile, all leaners are usually required to fulfill for their tuition fees at the beginning of each course, S. added.

Another teacher said she had spent the past months trying to claim VND30 million (US$1,300) worth of remuneration owed by the center.

“They promised to pay all of the money within one month if I agreed to teach one more course, but I have not received any penny up to date.”

H., who teaches Chinese at a branch in District 4, said her last course at SGV ended about two years ago, but the center still owes her VND12 million ($522).

N., another victim, said he has managed to claim VND4.5 million ($195) out of VND30 million ($1,300) after multiple “aggressive attempts.”

Another teacher said SGV has been paying him a small amount under VND1 million (VND1 million = $43.5) each month, but still owes him about VND10 million ($434).

The teacher also showed his text messages with a SGV accountant named Hung, who cited that the center had run out of money and had to borrow from multiple sources in order to pay its teachers.

During a conversation in February, Hung said that there was no source of income as no learner had signed up for weeks due to the pandemic.

In order to solve the issue, many teachers said they are planning to file a collective petition to competent authorities.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters have been unable to contact any SGV leaders but a representative.

SGV still exists and may be able to pay all of its debts in the future, the representative stated.

“If you make a bigger deal out of this situation, we may end up declaring bankruptcy, and no debt will be settled,” he added.

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Forged higher education diplomas openly on sale on social media in Vietnam



Advertising their services in broad daylight, forgery service accounts on social media are promising fake degree certificates with identical design and stamps from those issued by top universities of Vietnam — for the cost of just a few million Vietnamese dong. (VND1 million = US$44). 

To investigate these clandestine operations, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter went undercover and telephoned a man who claimed to provide certificate forgery services on social media. 

The person quoted VND4 million (US$174) for a bachelor’s diploma, while a master’s degree could cost VND10 million ($436). Payment is only required when the final products arrive at the customer’s location. 

As if to clear the unspoken doubt in the buyer’s mind, the enigmatic trafficker ascertained that his forged diploma would come with ten notarized copies, plus an academic transcript.

“Don’t worry, they can’t be detected with the naked eye,” he affirmed.

According to the dealer, his products are made out of blank diplomas issued by higher education institutions.

“This particular school admits 5,000 students per academic year, so they have to prepare 5,000 blank diplomas,” he claimed.

“However, there’s no way all of these students are going to graduate, as they will quit along the way, leaving some diplomas unfilled.”

The man added that he was able to source these blanks and then use the ‘latest technology’ to produce identical replicas that even university officials cannot detect. 

“Had my products been iffy, I would have been busted by now,” he doubled down. 

Once the customer is convinced, the dealer would collect several personal details, including birth date, sex, and the university of choice that customer wants their name written next to on the diploma.

The man refused to give any preview of the product before sending it off, saying some customers have dodged payment after realizing photos of their forged certificates are enough to apply for jobs.

“I will get the certificates delivered to you in three days,” he vowed.

“You can inspect it before paying.”

Another forgery service provider on Facebook also promised counterfeit diplomas of mint quality, with wet signatures and a fail-proof guarantee against all notary services in Vietnam, for the price of VND8 million ($349).

According to the seller, his products, made from school-issued blanks, can be used to apply for jobs or promotions since employers barely ever cross-check the legitimacy of certificates with universities.

However, they cannot be used in applying for master’s programs, for the information on them would not match any records in the academia system. 

A forged diploma, as advertised by a forgery service provider on social media.

A forged diploma, as advertised by a forgery service provider on social media in Vietnam

Universities’ perspective

According to Nguyen Trung Nhan, head of academic affairs at the Industrial University of Ho Chi Minh City, it is almost impossible for certificate blanks to be leaked from the school.

The school used to purchase certificate blanks from the Ministry of Education and Training, with the quantity strictly matching the number of confirmed graduates for the year. 

Currently, the university is now manufacturing blanks in-house.

These blanks are stored in a room with three layers of lock, the keys to which are managed separately by three departments of the university. 

After the list of graduates is confirmed, it requires the presence of all three departments to open the vault and obtain the correct number of blanks for certificate issuance. 

Even if the blanks do get sneaked outside, universities can still easily expose forged certificates via cross-examination.

“We receive dozens of certificate cross-checking requests every week,” he said.

“There were times when we found 20 percent of scrutinized diplomas to be fake.

“The public can cross-check any certificate issued by us on the university’s official website.”

Bui Hoang Thang, head of academic affairs at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, also thinks that a leak of certificate blanks is highly improbable. 

“Many recruiters are reaching out to us to cross-check the academic degrees of their candidates,” Thang said.

“We weed out a lot of fakes from them.”

Diploma blanks are issued by Vietnam’s official money-printing agency and are equipped with anti-counterfeiting details that can only be detected by a few people in charge, said Pham Ngoc Minh, former head of academic affairs at the Banking University of Ho Chi Minh City.

With a strict manufacturing protocol, the smuggling of blanks is basically implausible.

“Modern printing technology can generate identical-looking copies of blanks, but I can spot a fake with just my eyes,” Minh claimed.

“On top of that, most headhunters are cross-checking candidates’ diplomas directly with the universities or through their websites, which leaves no windows for fake diplomas to pass.”

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Vietnam university publisher apologizes Australian author, pulls journalism book over plagiarism



A publisher in Vietnam has apologized an Australian author and recalled a book on journalism and communication after he found two university lecturers who are the writers of an article in the book plagiarizing his journal paper.

The publishing house under the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City (VNU-HCM) had already pulled the book, published in Vietnamese in 2020, and registered for its republication, Tran Nam, chief of the communication and corporate relations bureau of the VNU-HCM’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Friday.

Hoang Xuan Phuong and Vu Mong Lan, the writers of an article in the book, had been found plagiarizing a paper by Australian author Jim Macnamara in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Phuong admitted to such plagiarism, saying Lan translated 85 percent of the paper into Vietnamese and included it in their book article without crediting Macnamara.

She claimed that Lan had asked her to symbolically co-author the article, which was meant to make it easier for the writing to be approved for publication, as Phuong was then head of the applied communication department, which is a part of the journalism and communication faculty under the top-tier University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Phuong would have never made such straight lifting if she had written the article herself, she said.

“This is an oversight and a stain on my career,” Phuong admitted.

“I’m not denying that it has cost me my credebility, affecting the universities I’ve worked for.

“It is a painful lesson for me.”

Phuong is now vice-dean of the communication and public relations faculty under Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City, while Lan is a lecturer of the faculty.

Phuong quit her job at the journalism and communication faculty in October 2020.

On January 13, Macnamara emailed the journalism and communication faculty, which was responsible for compiling the book, to protest Phuong and Lan’s plagiarism.

The Australian author said that both had copied his paper, which was published in the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly journal in 2016.

The Vietnamese publisher then apologized Macnamara and he accepted it, said Nam, the communication and corporate relations bureau chief.

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