School Safety in Vietnam

Working overseas is revealing. Differences, as well as powerful similarities between cultures, can be striking. When working in developing nations, the tremendous advantages that we often take for granted become apparent. As an international non-profit school safety center, Safe Havens has a staff of analysts who have worked with thousands of K-12 schools around the world. Working in more than two dozen countries, our analysts have observed many similarities as well as stark contrasts between learning environments. The lessons learned from these visits often help make American schools safer.

I recently had the opportunity to lecture once more at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as the chance to visit schools and universities there and in Qui Nhon and Nha Trang. The trip was both informative and humbling. This visit reminded me how fortunate we are in the U.s. when it comes to the quality of our facilities, programs, and support staff. Faculty and students in other countries often must accomplish much with scarce resources.

Vietnam is a rapidly developing nation where, as in the United States, education can be the ticket to an improved way of life. The economy is thriving and high-paying jobs await students with the right education. There is a struggle for admittance into available college programs. About 20 qualified students apply for each public university slot, with far more competition for some fields of study. At the same time, as in many other countries, Vietnamese K-12 schools do not have anything comparable to the U.S. mandates to educate special needs students. Many of the students who exhibit disruptive, and even dangerous, behaviors in U.S. schools would be quickly expelled from Vietnamese schools. Obviously, the high regard for individual freedom that exists in the United States has its benefits as manifested in the millions of students with disabilities who are able to graduate from our high schools each year.

Interestingly, Vietnamese campuses are generally more secure from an access control standpoint than their American counterparts. Though theft is sometimes a problem, major acts of violence on campus are almost unheard of. While some Vietnamese K-12 students carry knives to school with some regularity, as evidenced by occasional stabbings that take place soon after students leave school, such attacks are not prevalent on campus. One reason for this may be the Vietnamese version of zero tolerance. Vietnamese educators are not, per se, responsible for discipline of students — their parents are. As in Honduras and many other developing nations, children whose parents cannot control their behavior are not allowed to remain in school. While fistfights occur on campus, the level of disrespectful behavior seen is American schools is not evident in Vietnam because of parental responsibility and a culture where respect for elders is still a powerful social force.

The far greater degree of access control in Vietnam is quite noticeable in contrast to most U.S. schools. While not fortresses, Vietnamese schools are fenced in and gated with limited access points staffed by security personnel. Though they are not comparable to their American school resource officer counterparts, unarmed security personnel staff entry gates, parking areas, and other key locations providing a fairly secure, though low-tech, method of access control. Like all schools we have seen in the United Kingdom, it is not a simple task to stroll onto a school campus in Vietnam. In the United Kingdom, however, violence on campus is a somewhat similar problem to that on American campuses.

A more fundamental difference in Vietnamese education is a pervasive drive for families to support education. While Vietnamese schools lack mental health resources, athletic programs and technology, and have spartan facilities, Vietnamese parents spend more time helping their children with their homework. We are blessed with a world-class educational system, burdened by many students and parents who take the immense opportunities our schools provide for granted. Many of our daily safety concerns stem from the lack of reverence for education that is now pervasive in our culture.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at