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Why do so few ethnic minority girls make the transition to lower secondary school?

Poverty remains main obstacle to ethnic minority girls' access to quality education

Ha Noi, 26 March 2008 – Research from around the world shows that empowering women is an essential aspect of successful social and economic development, and an important way to achieve this is to provide girls with more than just basic education. Yet according to a new study, jointly launched today by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), multiple obstacles face ethnic minority girls in Viet Nam as they attempt to transition from primary to lower secondary school.  Based on an in-depth analysis of these barriers a set of recommendations and strategies drawn from discussions with local children, parents and community leaders are also provided.

According to the study, the main obstacle keeping H’mong, Bahnar, J’rai and Khmer girls from quality education is household poverty.  “Poverty affects girls’ ability to attend school in various ways,” said Mr. Jesper Morch, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam. “Girls may be malnourished before they even enroll in school, and once in school may lack money for school supplies, clean clothes and adequate food (especially for those attending boarding school), and they often feel pressure to leave to care for family members or to support households economically,” he added. 

Household poverty affects girls’ education in multiple ways.  As a father in Ia Ka said, “I can only make her stomach full.  I cannot afford to buy clothes and pay school fees. She is afraid of the teacher scolding her for not having money to pay for school.”

At the national level, Viet Nam has made great strides in improving the quality of education for children at the primary and secondary levels, with little difference between school achievement for boys and girls.  However, these national statistics mask the differences in school success for different ethnic groups in different regions, and the gender gap between ethnic minority girls and boys.

In addition to poverty, other major barriers for ethnic girls include the need to work, low awareness among families of the value of education, deficient school infrastructure, and poor quality of teaching and learning.  In-depth analysis of these barriers shows that there are many underlying factors such as the limited teaching in girls’ mother tongue and limited relevance of teaching methods,  to name a few. 

“One single educational approach is not enough in terms of quality education for ethnic minorities, especially girls. Quality education for these population calls for adoption of multiple and context-specific education approaches.  This will need to be highlighted in the national education strategy,” said Ms Vibeke Jensen, UNESCO Representative in Viet Nam.

The Government of Viet Nam recognizes that some segments of society remain underserved despite its best efforts, raising a significant challenge to the achievement of the government’s education targets. 
“This study has helped us all better understand the barriers that prevent ethnic minority girls from making the transition to lower secondary education’” said Dr. Bui Thi Ngoc Diep, Director of the Research Center for Ethnic Minority Education of MOET. “It also identifies creative, effective solutions which are directly drawn from the experiences of the ethnic minority populations,” she added. 

To help resolve these challenges, local community members suggested creating favorable conditions for girls to study in secondary schools. While solutions differ between ethnic groups, key recommendations include assistance for households with direct education costs, as well as support at the school level for professional development of teachers, adapting curriculum and materials, bilingual education, gender training, improving school facilities, and provision of safe and friendly learning environments. 

At the community level, the report proposes building community support for girls’ participation in school, creation of parents’ and girls' clubs, as well help with community infrastructure and economic development, micro-finance schemes, vocational education, and financial support for girls and families. 

Dr. Dang Huynh Mai, former Vice Minister of the Ministry of Education and Training and a distinguished teacher, sums up the ambitions of the study in her introduction to the report: “It is our great hope that these findings will help policy makers to identify practical solutions and make informed recommendations to help all ethnic minority girls to enroll in primary schools, complete a quality primary education, and continue their learning with a successful transition to lower secondary education.” 

For more information, please contact:

  • Ms. Caroline den Dulk, UN Communications, Tel: 84-4-942-5715, Mob: 84-91-239-1053, Email:
  • Mr. Jonathan B Miller, Education Section, UNICEF, Tel: 84-4-942 5706, extension 300, Mob: 0913 237 884, Email:
  • Ms. Vibeke Jensen, UNESCO, Tel: 84-4-747 02 75, ext 12, Email:

The report is available on the UN Viet Nam website at, and on the UNICEF Viet Nam website:




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