Between 221 B.C. and A.D. 939, Vietnam was ruled by China. In independent Vietnam, however, Chinese language and literature remained for the next 1,000 years as the core of education. After the first century or so of independence, the Vietnamese monarchy established an Examination System, closely patterned after that of China, to train potential officials serving the king. Between 1075 and 1918, when the system was closed down, examinations were held, on the average, every 4 ½ years. In that long period, 2,991 candidates attained the doctorate. This was a success rate of about 1%. 1
In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong established the Quoc Tu Giam (Institute for Children of the State) as the country's first university to train administrators. Children of aristocrats and high officials (mandarins) were the sole students. The state did not create any schools for the common people. This task was left to the Buddhist monks, who established pagoda schools attached to village temples. There, children of commoners learned to read and write and studied Buddhism and Chinese literature and thought. The instructional language was classical Chinese; although in everyday life, Vietnamese continued to be used despite its interdiction by the state. 2 Between the 12th and 15th centuries, both streams of national education developed successfully.
After a time, outstanding students from the village schools began to be admitted to an enlarged Quoc Tu Giam that could now house scholarship students. In 1397, educational mandarins were appointed in each province and district. They presided over the creation of local schools patterned after Quoc Tu Giam. Children of commoners profited from these measures by gaining entrance to