Developing School Psychology in Vietnam

Article excerpt

Luce China, Vietnam is a communist country with increasingly capitalist economic policies. A fundamental change occurred in these policies with the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986 that called for a "free market with socialist orientations." However, this economic modernization has inadvertently changed the social dynamics of Vietnamese society and increased stress on families, communities, and schools. As a result of these changes, students in Vietnam are experiencing significant challenges, both at home and at school, which often translate to increases in the number of children experiencing learning, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. Nguyen and colleagues found 90% of students in Vietnam report experiencing learning problems; difficulty maintaining positive relationships with parents, teachers, and friends; and making career choices (M. Nguyen, H. Nguyen, T. Nguyen, & Tran, 2007). In addition to these learning, relationship, and vocational problems, more than 7 million Vietnamese school-age children are reported to exhibit mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or oppositional defiant disorders (Nguyen et al., 2007). Similar to epidemiological data in the United States, this represents more than 20% of all school-age children. Social pressure to perform academically may be another factor in the reported increase in students' mental health problems. When more than 97% ofVietnamese parents wanted their children to perform above average in schools, 64.92% of the students lived in incessant fear of having low grades and being reprimanded by parents or teachers, and 28.47% experienced poor appetite, fatigue, and tension (Hoang, 2005).

In order to address the mental health and behavioral needs of school-age children, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) of Vietnam issued an official correspondence to all K-12 schools on April 4, 2005 (2564/BGD&DT-HSSV) and later on May 28, 2005 (9971/BGD&DT-HSSV) recommending the implementation ofvocational and psychological counseling services to both upper and lower high school students (MOET, 2005). Unfortunately, this mandate represented a large unfundedgovernment directive. Furthermore, MOET's policy does not specify the academic preparation or type of training needed to provide these counseling services to students. As a result, many schools were unable to employ counselors whatsoever because of limited budgets, while others hired counselors who had very little professional preparation.

In a study conducted in Ho Chi Minh City regarding the qualifications of hired counselors, Tran and Do (2006) and Do (2006) found service providers to be mostly graduates of programs not directly related to psychology, such as law, journalism, or marketing. Furthermore, counseling staff may have received only short-term training, sometimes only 3 days, on how to meet the mental health needs of school-age children (Le, 2009). An in-depth analysis of 29 Vietnamese school counselors' professional knowledge and competencies revealed few counselors with expertise in assessment, vocational guidance, academic and behavioral interventions, and crisis intervention (Le, 2009). Furthermore, counselors reported little confidence in their knowledge of evidence-based practices or how to take into account the diversity of students' backgrounds, and limited access to training and resources (Le, 2009). For example, one counselor stated (translated by the author): "There are not many materials in this area [crisis interventions] in Vietnam. We have to read them in other languages. Materials [are] without proper sources, not official, scattered, just forthe public." Without appropriate training and adequate knowledge, Vietnamese counselors reported sometimes administering assessments with questionable validity. As shared by a counselor:

They [Chinese test marketing company] believe that the test is very accurate and publicize it in schools so parents can bring their children in [the counseling center] for testing. …