The Ultimate Guide to International Schools in Saigon

By: Angee the Diva

Saigon is home to many families who seek excellent international educational opportunities for their children but it can be difficult to navigate all of the pros and cons of the dozens of schools in the city.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the colourful websites and endless links leading to more and more information for hundreds of different international schools in Saigon. When you consider that many children as young as four years old will spend the majority of their week at school, it highlights the importance of finding a place that offers an environment that is safe, fun, effective and affordable for your budget.

International SchoolsImage source:

An All-In-One Guide to International Schools in Saigon

Lucky for you, we’ve done some of the work for you! The following is our guide to all of the major international schools in Saigon, complete with a quick look comparison spreadsheet attached. We’ve done our best to highlight the basic facts of each school to help you narrow down your search so you know that you are choosing the best possible option for your little learners.

Please note that prices are quoted in VND and represent the price of a one-time annual tuition payment. If you pay in several installments the prices can be up to 20 percent more. Fees for application, registration, uniforms, transportation, meal plans, books, activities, etc., have not been included. Please see the school’s website for more detailed info specific to your family’s needs.


Boules et Billes

Address: 38 street 10, Thao Dien ward, D2 and 183A Dien Bien Phu St., Binh Thanh D

Grade Levels: 6M to 11Y

Boules et Billes follows the French National curriculum. Teachers are graduates of the French National Education system and all locally hired assistants have a high-level of French and/or English. The school has two campuses. One in a lovely historic villa with a swimming pool in Thao Dien and the other conveniently located between District 1 and District 2 in Binh Thanh D.

There are strong extracurricular programs offered at both schools in the categories of art, sports, music and language studies. In addition, the school offers the luxury of a navette service. This means parents can skip the daily drop-off and pick-up procedure because a taxi with an assistant will arrive in front of their home twice a day to pick-up or drop-off the children. It should be noted that only the Binh Thanh location continues beyond pre-school and primary studies.

International SchoolsImage source: Boules et Billes

Ecole Internationale Française Saint Ange

Address: 189 A1 Nguyen Van Huong, D2
Grade Levels: 6M to 11Y

The Saint Ange School is the only French private school in Vietnam with the international school designation. All of the teachers are graduates of the French National Education and are committed to providing a quality French education with strict adherence to French National Education standards. The small school has beautifully appointed grounds, including a covered outdoor play area and swimming pool. One remarkable feature of the school is its commitment to technology. Students can experience robotics, 3D printing, and even hydrogen cars in the after school programs.

International SchoolsImage source: Saint Ange School

FOSCO International School (F.I.S.)

Address: 40 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, D3
Grade Levels: 18M - 11Y

FOSCO International School teaches the American Common Core curriculum with an emphasis on project based and inquiry based, student-centered learning. F.I.S. is unique in that it offers half-day programs for students from nursery to grade 5. The school also likes to extend learning outside of the classroom through extracurricular activities, summer camps, and travel abroad programs. Students can choose to study in Japan or California for 2 weeks during school holidays.

International SchoolsImage source: F.I.S.

International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP)

Address: 92 Nguyen Huu Canh, W.22, Binh Thanh D
Grade Levels: 18 months - 11Y

Located in Saigon Pearl Complex, the International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) focuses on an American-style curriculum that is based on teaching core values such as honesty, caring, respect, responsibility and wisdom. With students coming from over 26 countries, ISSP provides a truly international environment and strong community for all children.

The multicultural environment and English immersion curriculum will help students achieve academic excellence as well as the skills that are necessary to become socially responsible global citizens. ISSP is now the only international elementary and early years school in HCMC to have the prestigious accreditation from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

International SchoolsImage source: ISSP

La Petite Ecole

Address: 234 Nguyen Van Huong, D2
Grade Levels: 12M - 9Y

La Petite Ecole is part of the French group of bilingual schools in Asia and was fully accredited by the French Ministry of Education in Singapore, where it was established in 2012. All French curriculum classes are instructed by certified French native speakers. La Petite Ecole is the only primary school in HCMC to offer a truly bilingual experience, in which both language and culture are taught. Curiousity and independence are valued in the learning program at this family-oriented school in District 2.

International SchoolsImage source: La Petite Ecole

Montessori International School of Vietnam

Thao Dien Campus: 42/1 Ngo Quang Huy, Thao Dien Distric 2, HCMC, Vietnam
An Phu Campus: Block B, An Khang/Intresco Building, Street 19, An Phu, District 2, HCMC, Vietnam
Grade Levels: 18M to 12Y

If you’re looking for an alternative educational environment than most other international schools, you may consider Montessori International School of Vietnam. Closely following the Montessori curriculum and philosophy, classes are structured around the needs of the individual child and a focus is on the student becoming self-reliant, independent, and self-motivated. Students are not admitted to the school by ability, but rather are allowed to progress at their own pace through exploration, collaboration with peers, and support of the teacher. Students are given many opportunities to interact across ages and grade levels, and are expected to act as role models to those around them. Additionally, the school has a major focus on community involvement, including service projects and charity work.

International SchoolsImage source: Montessori International School

Saigon Star International School

Address: Residential Area No. 5, Su Hy Nhan Street, Thanh My Loi Ward, D2
Grade Levels: 2Y to 12Y

Saigon Star International School is a small school with less than 150 students. This allows the school to offer small class sizes and a close knit community feel. The students enjoy a swimming pool and covered outdoor play areas where they have assemblies and play sports. The outdoor areas are often used for community program days as well when the school invites the wider community for special activities.

International SchoolsImage source: Saigon Star International School


The ABC International School (ABCIS)

Address: #69, Street No. 3, Khu Dan Cu Trung Son, Binh Hung, Binh Chanh

Grade Levels: 2 years old - 18+

The ABC International School has two campuses in close proximity in the Binh Chanh district, easily accessible by Districts 1 and 7. Embracing the traditional family values that emanate from the family owners; ABCIS students are modest, highly motivated learners, engaged in a holistic UK curriculum model & complimentary ECA programme described by UK government inspectors as “Outstanding”. One key feature of the programs at ABCIS is the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. The program encourages students to strive for individual achievement, self-reliance, personal growth, and responsibility in four areas: service, adventure journey, skill and physical recreation. Maximising every individuals full potential, gifted teachers work with pupils in close partnerships to meet increasingly challenging curriculum needs. Immersed in the English language; supported by excellent resources across three campuses, exceptional examination results enable ABCIS graduates to enter the world’s most prestigious universities.

International SchoolsImage source: ABCIS

American International School Vietnam (ΛIS)

Address: 102C Nguyen Van Cu, D1
Grade Levels: 4Y to 18Y+

The American International School Vietnam has a commitment to fostering well-rounded students who are positive and caring as well as academically adept. Their mission to support the whole child extends beyond academics into mandatory co-curricular activities that allow students to explore their passions and develop leadership and cooperative skills. For further development, AIS also hosts more than 40 after school activities, including STEM, martial arts, yoga and traditional dance. One notable program is their Encore Program. The standards-based courses offered encourages the middle and high school students to build relationships, grow interests in performing and visual arts, and exhibit those talents in front of an audience.

International SchoolsImage source: American International School Vietnam

The American School

Address:  172-180 Nguyen Van Huong, D2
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The American School, located in Thao Dien ward of District 2, offers a rigorous, standards based curriculum for students from early childhood through high school. Students are encouraged to take an active role in their learning and development through project-based learning, critical thinking tasks, and engagement with the community around them. A source of pride at the school is the commitment to charity projects that benefit Vietnam. For example, last year, students and teachers volunteered in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam to build a home for a family in need. These type of initiatives show the school’s commitment to developing caring and compassionate active citizens.

International SchoolsImage source: TAS

APU International School

Elementary School (K - 5): 501 Lac Long Quan street, Ward 5, District 11

Middle & High School (6 - 12): 286 Lanh Binh Thang street, Ward 11, District 11
Grade Levels: 4Y to 18Y+

APU International School is structured to offer a direct pathway to higher learning in the United States. Modeled after the most prestigious prep schools in the US, APU prepares encourages students to achieve their best and apply for scholarships to study at the United States’ top universities. Internships, Vietnamese cultural tours, and study exchanges at schools in the US offer students of APU a unique global experience. Through an exclusive partnership with University of Missouri-Kansas City, APU offers a dual enrollment program. Eligible juniors and seniors can earn college credit for general education classes while they earn their high school diploma.

International SchoolsImage source: APU

Australian International School Saigon (AIS)

Address: 246 Mai Chi Tho., An Phu Ward, D2
Grade Levels: K - Year 13 (18M to 18Y+)

Australian International School offers the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge curriculum with an emphasis on rigor, critical thinking, depth, and breadth of subjects, integrated seamlessly with technology, culture, and real world application. Spread over three campuses in District 2, students are given opportunities to engage with native English speaking teachers from various backgrounds and children from over 40 home countries in an inclusive and culturally sensitive environment. AIS has a wide ranging extra- curricular program in sports, music, community service and student leadership. The school also has focus on performing and visual arts across the school and children are given multiple opportunities to speak, dance or play an instrument on stage. This builds self-confidence and teamwork, thus preparing the students for university.

International SchoolsImage source: Australian International School

British International School, Ho Chi Minh City (BIS)

Address: 246 Nguyen Van Huong, D2

Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The British International School, Ho Chi Minh City, is an expansive school sprawling over three campuses in district 2. Students of BIS are offered the National Curriculum of England, taught by a dedicated group of international teachers. The school encourages students to become global citizens by providing many hands-on learning opportunities in various settings, placing an emphasis on excellence, and maintaining a state of the art campus. A unique feature of BIS is their partnerships with other educational organizations. As a part of the Nord Anglia Education network, students are given access to a worldwide network of educational opportunities. Additionally, the curriculum is greatly enhanced through collaboration with the Juilliard School of Music and MIT.

International SchoolsImage source: BIS

British Vietnamese International School, Ho Chi Minh City (BVIS)

Address: 44 - 46, No. 1 Street, Binh Hung, Binh Chanh D
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The British Vietnamese International School, Ho Chi Minh City, is proud to offer a one-of-a-kind fully licensed international curriculum in a fully bilingual environment. Students are taught all subjects in both languages, receiving gradually more English language instruction as they approach graduation. The school works hard to respect and preserve Vietnamese culture by celebrating holidays, hosting parent days, and working closely with Vietnamese staff, families and the community. Students who attend BVIS receive a challenging and meaningful education, receiving an internationally-recognized A levels certification upon graduation. With more than 100 after school club offerings and the global network of Nord Anglia Education, BVIS is dedicated to ensuring the students are well rounded and ready for the world.

International SchoolsImage source: BVIS

Canadian International School (CIS)

Address: 86 No. 23 Street, Phu My, D7
Grade Levels: 4Y to 18Y+

The Canadian International School is the first and only school in Vietnam to offer the general curriculum of Ontario. A unique offering is the option to receive an OSSD at CIS in Vietnam or a secondary school in Ontario. The school also offers a bilingual education program (BCIS) in Vietnamese and English at their sister campus, also located in district 7. No matter which program a student chooses, the school is committed to providing a course of study with high expectations of excellence, rigor of study, and well-balanced cultural, technological, and social education.

International SchoolsImage source: CIS

Deutsche Schule - International German School, Ho Chi Minh City (IGS)

Address: 2 Vo Truong Toan, An Phu, D2
Grade Levels: 18M to 18Y+

The International German School offers a curriculum provided by the Federal State of Thuringia for German and English speaking students, as well as MOET curriculum for Vietnamese students. They promote a holistic approach to learning to develop motor, cognitive, socioemotional, and linguistic skills. Through dynamic instruction, extracurricular activities and excursion within Vietnam, students received a well-rounded and globally responsive education.High school students then graduate with a mixed language IB diploma, which prepares them to study at German and international universities.

International SchoolsImage source: IGS

European International School Ho Chi Minh City (EIS)

Address: 730 Le Van Mien, D2
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The European International School Ho Chi Minh City places an interesting emphasis on preserving and accepting the students’ home language and culture. They believe this emphasis on language unites the school and encourages a positive learning environment while supporting students in becoming global citizens. Teachers deliver dynamic, differentiated, project based lessons in small classes. Their practical approach to education extends to “Week Without Walls,” a unique program that takes children out of the classroom into the real world to practice their skills, give back to the community, and experience culture. Additionally, EIS offers more than 80 afterschool programs, including Model United Nations, Dutch and Russian mother language programs, sports, arts, and robotics.

International SchoolsImage source: EIS

Horizon International Bilingual School (HIBS)

Address:  6 - 6A- 8, Street No.44, Thao Dien Ward, District

Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

Horizon International Bilingual School offers a bilingual education programme at their HCMC campus in district 2. The program has a carefully planned approach at merging the Vietnamese National curriculum and the Cambridge IGCSE curriculums to create a comprehensive system that prepares students to thrive in worldwide universities. All subjects are taught in both Vietnamese and English from kindergarten through grade 12. Students also get to enjoy more than 15 different club activities in after school programs, which help develop cooperative skills and interests. The school has fully integrated technology, using Google for Education as a means of the administration and teachers to communicate with the students and families. For students who live far away from the school, the campus even has dormitories available that provide a safe and nurturing environment for students away from home.

International SchoolsImage source: HIBS

The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)

Primary Campus: 28 Vo Truong Toan, An Phu Ward, District 2
Secondary Campus: 1 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) consists of two fully-equipped campuses in Saigon's District 2. The school’s history spans 25 years of excellence in primary and secondary education; indeed, it was the first international school to be established in Ho Chi Minh City.

A fundamental feature of ISHCMC is its emphasis on multi-disciplinary learning centered around providing choice to all students. As an IB school, ISHCMC offers 3 world-class programmes: PYP (Primary Years Programme), MYP (Middle Years Programme), and DP (Diploma Programme).

International SchoolsImage source: ISHCMC

The Primary school at ISHCMC incorporates student-focused “units of inquiry” in which learners are encouraged to pursue studies according to their interests and passions. This allows the school to provide the best learning pathways for each individual. The Secondary school has an incredibly wide choice of subjects available for students, in as many as 30 diverse subjects areas.

They even offer support for students who wish to learn language and literature in their mother language, even if the language is not widely taught at the school. ISHCMC offers a huge range of extra-curricular activities, in areas from sports and technology to performing arts and sustainability.

Editor's Note: We would like to correct and apologize for our editing error on the spreadsheet that is attached to this article. In the Q1 #iAMHCMC gazette, printed in January 2019, it was noted that ISHCMC does not offer a diploma program when in fact they follow the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB DP).

International School of North America (SNA)

Address: Him Lam campus Street 20, Him Lam Quarter, South Saigon, Binh Chanh D
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The International School of North America offers a unique dual curricular program, combining the California Common Core curriculum with the Vietnamese MOET curriculum. Upon graduation, students have the option of receiving both an American high school diploma and a MOET diploma. This gives them the option of attending university abroad or in Vietnam. The grounds are equipped with state of the art facilities, including indoor badminton court, pool, theatre, and several science and technology labs. By providing extra curricular and co-curricular activities at no additional cost, SNA is providing excellent educational opportunities to its students.

International SchoolsImage source: SNA

Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras

Address: No.11 Street, Long Thanh My, D9
Grade Levels: 3Y to 18Y+

The Marguerite Duras French International School is a French public school that was established by the French National Education Ministry. It is also part of the AEFE, which is an organisation that groups more than 470 schools outside of French territories in more than 130 countries. Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras is also the only school in HCMC where students can pass their Baccalauréat - the French National degree that is the equivalent of a high school diploma.

The school is located in D9, which may be far for many parents but the large campus and high education quality makes up for the distance.

International SchoolsImage source: Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras

Renaissance International School Saigon

Address: 74 Nguyen Thi Thap, D7
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

Renaissance International School Saigon shows a great commitment to educating students in and out of the classroom. Offering the UK National Curriculum and the IB programme, they hold students to a standard of academic excellence. They also provide many in-school opportunities to develop a sense of community, self-awareness, and cooperation through house groups and more than 120 after school clubs. However, they go a step further by requiring all secondary students to engage in service learning projects and residential visits in which students get to experience the world around them first hand and work on practical solutions for real world issues.

International SchoolsImage source: RISS

Saigon South International School (SSIS)

Address: 78 Nguyen Duc Canh, Tan Phong, D7
Grade Levels: 3Y to 18Y+

Saigon South International School is one of the oldest international schools in HCMC and has been in operation for over 20 years. It is the first school in Vietnam to be recognized as an Apple Distinguished School and the only school in Vietnam in the South East Asia Student Activities Conference (SEASAC). With over 1000 students representing more than 35 countries and 110 staff members representing 12 countries, the school is a haven for diversity and modern globalization. The American-style curriculum puts a focus on inquiry based learning that is student led. SSIS aims to support whole-child learning and so offers a wealth of extracurricular activities, community initiatives, and world wide collaborative efforts. One such program is the after school medical intern program in which students get to learn in a local clinic.

International SchoolsImage source: SSIS

Singapore International School (SIS @ Saigon South)

Address: 29 No. 3 Street, KDC Trung Son, Binh Chanh D
Grade Levels: 3Y to 18Y+

Singapore International School offers two pathways to study, including international and integrated programs. Students choose based on their needs and academic goals, but both programs culminate in an internationally recognized diploma. SIS offers five major international benchmark assessments, including A/AS, GAC, iPSLE, ACT, and IGCSE, ensuring that students are prepared for furthering their education anywhere in the world. A remarkable initiative that SIS offers is their Cross-Border Campus Programme in which students can study for a term at an affiliated school in Southeast Asia, Australia, or the United States.

International SchoolsImage source: SIS @ Saigon South

Vietnam Australia International School (VAS)

Address: 1 No. 20 Street, Tan Hung, D7
Grade Levels: 2Y to 18Y+

The Vietnam Australian International School is a collective of 9 campuses located across Ho Chi Minh City, making it easier for families to attend from anywhere in the city. Students are taught in English and Vietnamese, in accordance with the MOET and Cambridge curricula. In secondary and high school, students may choose two learning pathways, either MOET/Cambridge Academic Program or MOET/Cambridge English Program. In this way, students will receive either an A level diploma or MOET/FCE or CAE diploma, both internationally recognized for continuing education at university.

International SchoolsImage source: VAS

Wellspring International Bilingual School (WSSG)

Address: 92 Nguyen Huu Canh, Saigon Pearl, Binh Thanh D
Grade Levels: 6Y to 18Y+

At Wellspring International Bilingual School, students follow the Vietnamese National curriculum, which is then integrated with the Massachusetts Department of Education Common Core State Standards. This allows secondary students to receive a MOET diploma as well as a US High School diploma with the option of Advanced Placement credits. The emphasis on a well-rounded education is evident throughout the students journey from kindergarten to grade 12 with the addition of extracurricular activities that are based on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.

International SchoolsImage source: WSSG

Banner Image source: VAS

Keeping Good Counsel

By: City Pass Guide

We sat down to interview Michelle Parker, the Guidance and College Counsellor at The American School, on what it means to be a great school counselor.

How does a counsellor ensure he/she is sending a child on a path the child will both benefit from and enjoy?

They meet one to one and in groups to make assessments to get in touch with who they are. There is never a magic wand or any guarantees; the whole point is that the counsellor works with the children throughout their school career to gain an understanding of the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

To what extent should a counsellor advise a student? Is it more motivational and self-help or strictly academic advice?

Counsellors are never strict about anything. I cover social, emotional, academic and career choices. This is an holistic approach to education, we allow children to make informed choices about their futures.

How do TAS's counsellors determine what subject a student is best at and should pursue?

Their subject strengths don’t really matter, I don’t tell them what to do, ever. It’s just a case of opening up their horizons and getting them to recognise the options open to them. For example if a child wants to be a vet, I would look at their science grades. If they are failing badly then it is not a good match. If however they are adamant that this is the path they want, then it can be an opportunity to improve their science grades. That is to say, if they really want it, then they would have to buckle down to succeed in these core subjects.

Is a counsellor in some ways a child psychologist?

It runs parallel to it. In the US you have to have a degree in psychology and a masters in school counselling. It is a specialisation within the broader subject.

Do parents who meet the counsellor have a say in what the counsellor tells the student?

Parents don’t have any say in what the school counsellor does. Of course we meet with them to explain what we are doing. However it is a case of us informing them what happens and not parents telling the councillors what to do.

Is student counselling a new practice in Vietnam?

It’s not new to American schools, but it is new to Vietnamese. The Vietnamese kids which make up 50% of the school take to the role very well. Kids like to talk, to their counsellor. It is rewarding and incredibly exciting to see them open up for the first time. For them it is extremely cathartic, because they know it is completely private and the trust will not be broken, unless of course, they are in danger.

How do Vietnamese parents who may have not heard of this practice before, react to it?

Asian parents in general seem to take it quite well. They have already made the step of placing the child in an American school, so to a degree they have already taken that leap of faith.

How do Vietnamese students react to counselling compared to foreign students?

Foreign students are more familiar with it, as it is widely used and accepted in the USA. but Vietnamese children soon get used to bit and when they do the reaction is about the same.

How does TAS choose their counsellors? Do they look at his or her background to see if they themselves were a success academically and career-wise?

Obviously qualifications matter immensely, then experience. After that it is all individual to each school. They will have an idea of the style that they want and will choose someone for the role for different reasons.

Has TAS ever had a bad counsellor?

Not so much bad, but in any career field there are going to be cases of a mismatch. You cannot reach every single child, but we really try to get to as many as possible. Counsellors want to help people, they are approachable and open. But sometimes a child will simply not respond to a certain personality, that is just life.

Do you think the age of a counsellor has any bearing on their ability to identify with and enable the children to open up?

I honestly don’t think age is an issue, it’s all personality.

Do counsellors also suggest extracurricular activities for students?

Not so much suggest, but I do get involved. I love sports so I have taught tennis and play a lot of sports here. I really enjoy the teachers versus kids volleyball.

If a student is conflicted between what they want to do and what their parents want, how does a counsellor guide the student to do "the right thing”?

I always tell the child that it’s their life and their future; they must live it. With the guidance of the school we will always put the child’s best interest first. I meet with parents in groups and explain that it is of paramount importance that every child is accepted as an individual. The best thing a parent can do is to support children in their endeavours, no matter what their choices are.

What is your bottom line? What do you see as the best that you offer to the school and the children?

I see my role as more than simply being for the school and the child. The overall picture is to educate the Vietnamese community about what we offer to the children. It is so important that children get guidance and counselling to enable them to grow and be the absolute best that they can be. Support is the key word here, sometimes it is easy to put too much of one’s own opinions onto a child. Failure is not a bad thing, everyone has to fail. They have to be free to fail. Pick themselves up and say, where do I go from here?
The American School Community Service programme started this year. This is a service where all students who qualify will have to have a number of hours of community service. They simply cannot graduate without it. Such things like collecting clothes and giving them to the poor people in the area. Our children are incredibly lucky and lead privileged lives. It is important that they realise it.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

By: City Pass Guide

What do Vietnamese kids actually learn in public schools here? Former educator Frank Fox provides a glimpse into the local system.

The school system in Vietnam rests on one major foundation: learning by heart. While beneficial in fields like mathematics and geometry, it suffocates creativity in other subjects.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

Don’t get me wrong, there is creativity going on in Vietnam. There are people with the ability to react fast, find independent solutions and do as good a job as everybody else in the world. But it is not the native education system that hauls in the credit in these cases, only individual effort and determination. Fortunately these essential traits are commonly found in Vietnamese people.

Let’s have a look a look at each level in the Vietnamese education system.

Kindergarten | Primary School | Secondary School | High School

Kindergarten in Vietnam

Kindergarten is not yet dominated by learning, it’s rather a nursery with opportunities to play and learn the rules of social interaction. Yes friends, to ensure that your child is treated well at the kindergarten, a monthly gift, nicely wrapped in an envelope, is more than welcome in both public and private institutions.

kindergarten in vietnamSource: ILO

Primary School in Vietnam

Once in primary school, our children face a curriculum that consists of the following basic subjects: Mathematics, English, Reading and Writing, Sports, Crafting, Painting, Music and Morals and Etiquette.

Looks pretty neat, doesn’t it? If you replace the moral and etiquette subject with basic science, it looks like our own curriculum back home. The difference is, that the children here learn by heart what can be learned by heart. In music you learn the notes and repeat meticulously what’s in the book. Even if learning by heart already kicks in, it’s still primary school, so the pressure is not yet in full effect.

Primary school in VietnamSource: ILO

That starts with:

Secondary School in Vietnam

If somebody in Europe told you that he had to learn the periodic table by heart, you would either roll on the floor laughing or buy him a pint out of pity. Well, prepare to dish out many pints in Vietnam.

- Mathematics

This is the same as everywhere else in the universe. I actually can’t imagine any other way to learn math than learning the rules first and then start applying them and playing with numbers.

- Literature

This was one of my favorite subjects in secondary school. In Vietnam you basically learn about Vietnamese authors, preferably those from the army. You read articles, discuss the morale of the story and the writing style of the author. After that you learn his biography by heart. My question whether there is freestyle writing at tests was answered with a straight “No”.

- Arts

Learning about art in Vietnam is quite similar to learning about arts in Europe, however stricter. Topics are given and the students have to follow them.

- Music

This subject a creative highlight in a very Vietnamese way: Take a song and replace the lyrics with your own. The cooler teachers let the students sing for the test.

- English

Grammar is taught, as well as reading and communication. The education in terms of grammar is pretty good and nobody can deny that. The main problem here is that many Vietnamese English teachers deliver a strong accent in the first place, and copying them doesn’t make it better. If students find the time to watch English movies in their spare time, they can develop pretty good skills. But that brings us back to the point of personal determination.

- Chemistry

This subject is taught without exploding oxyhydrogen gas, there is no mixing of sugar with sulphuric acid and no lithium tossed into a bowl of water. But as I mentioned above, these activities are substituted by learning by heart the periodic table of elements.

- Physics

Quite similar to chemistry in terms of the absence of practical experiments and the presence of more formulae to learn at school.

- Biology

The science of life another topic. Apparently there an array of interesting experiments is conducted in Vietnamese secondary school that we didn’t do, even at high school. Okay, here as well as in other subjects learning by heart is an integral part of the system. But they practice microscopy, anatomy and even dissecting a live frog. Vivisection is, however, not a practice to recommend for the sake of compassion. But, they usually don’t have a real skeleton in the cabinet, like we did.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

- History

This subject shows it’s worst face. Out of roughly 100 Vietnamese students I asked on occasion if they like history, how many answered with “Yes”, do you think? Exactly zero.

History in Vietnam comes with a general introduction to the king generation of Vietnam, skipping scientists and foreign countries. There is no cultural education about the past. But what do they actually learn in history?

Well, on average, 12 A4 pages per week about how many helicopters were destroyed in this battle, how many soldiers died in that battle and what are the relatives of that general, his biography… is crammed into the short-term memory until the next test.

When I asked roughly 45 students why there is a day off on the 2nd of September, only two knew what was going on and one of them finally came up with the answer “independence day”.

- Geography

A subject that gives an overview over the continents and introduces personalities like Columbus. The rest is focused on climate and agriculture, such as soil types, coffee production and weather. In a society that derives the lion’s share of its identity from farming and fishery, this is actually an important part of education.

- Sports

Physical Education is pretty much the same as it is back in good ol’ Europe and North America.

Secondary school in VietnamSource: Patrick Lee

Tests and exams at secondary school:

In secondary school students are expected, as in most other systems, to sit a variety of regular tests and exams. These include simple tests, evaluatory exams and entrance exams to further education.

Simple tests: There is a 15 minute test every week and a 45 minute test twice a month. It’s basically writing down everything you have crammed into your short-term memory over the last week - under time pressure.

Evaluatory exams: There are four main exams during every grade and they are basically the same as at the tests, but obviously a little more significant.

High School Entrance Exams: Here students re-cram everything from the last nine months that conveniently vanished from the short-term memory. By heart of course. There are four subjects that get tested during the final exams at secondary school in Vietnam: Mathematics, Literature, English and one practical subject that is chosen every year by the Department of Education. This subject can either be biology, geography or physics.

The first two account for 20 points each, the last two for 10 each, which adds up to a maximum of 60 points you can reach. In some special cases, a student can reach more than 60 points though, but that is rare and only for students who had excellent marks during the whole course of secondary school.

Every year the headmaster of every high school sets a minimum score every student needs to be accepted at this particular school. Students write down their preferred high school, as well as (usually) two alternative institutes in case they cannot reach the required score to be accepted by their first choice.

What Vietnamese Children Learn in School

High School in Vietnam

High school is basically the same as in secondary school, except there is more pressure and more to learn than before. The entrance exam for universities is quite similar too.


At home, in Austria, I sometimes cursed the outdated school system we have and the fact that we are required to cram our heads with useless information from outdated books. And taking a look into the Vietnamese education system almost made me exclaim “Tu Felix Austria”! Almost. But at the end of the day, accepting the bad just because you've found worse is not the way to go.

Top things to do in Saigon for Kids

By: City Pass Guide

Ho Chi Minh City offers superb opportunities for people who decide to make a life here. But what about your kids? How good is Saigon life for your young ones? Here are a few ideas for activities for your children to enjoy.


Khu Cong Vien Khanh Hoi, Hoang Dieu, D4

Phone: +84 28 3825 3868
Hotline: +84 9 3205 9169

Opening Hours: 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Daily

This activity centre is jam packed with excellent things to occupy young minds for hours. Children participate in and learn about different professions in the adult world. They can earn KizCiti money by taking part in certain activities, then have to spend it on others. It has become popular as a school trip.

KizCiti has computer systems checking your child’s progress through each profession. It is an imaginative attraction; kids get to be airline pilots, firefighters, chefs, beauticians, paramedics and just kids! It is excellent value, and well worth checking out. There are two sessions daily: 8a.m. until 3:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Dam Sen Water Park

3 Hoa Binh, Ward 3, D11

Phone: +84 28 3963 3593

Opening Hours: Wed to Mon 8.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. except Sunday 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays



One of the most popular things for kids to do in the city, the water park makes for a great family day out. It opened in 1999 and has been busy ever since. When the temperatures start to soar in the city, this is just the place to cool off and have fun. It is worth checking out the rides in advance before throwing your little angels in at the deep end. Some of these rides are really quite scary, waterslides that drop almost vertically and hurl you out at the bottom at quite a speed; zip lines, and all manner of things.

If you want to join in, remember that these rides were built for Asian people and hurtling your 100 kgs down a water slide at high speed is likely to result in a few bumps and bruises. But it is great fun for kids of all ages. The great success of Dam Sen Water Park is that it really does cater for all. There are gentle rides for little ones, medium rides for those who are a little more adventurous and really hair raising ones for the adrenaline junkies.

Suoi Tien Theme Park

120 AH1, Tan Phu, D9

Phone: +84 28 3896 0260

Opening Hours: Mon to Fri 7.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Sat to Sun 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

Suoi Tien Theme Park was opened in 1995. It’s is a bit of a trek out of town through District 2 and on to District 9, but it is a good place for kids. Eventually the new metro will stop here and it will be more accessible. The park and gardens tell the story of Vietnam’s history and legends, like the battle between the God of the Water and the God of the Mountain, known as the Battle of Thuy Tinh and Son Thinh.

It’s a mixture of fun, facts, legends and weird stuff. Dragons and dinosaurs make for confusing bed fellows but it all works out in that strangely unique Vietnamese way. There is also a zoo, a sea water pool for bathing and cooling off when the temperatures soar, and a man-made beach complete with waterfall, on which is cultured the face of an emperor.

Snap Cafe

32 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien Ward, D2

Phone: +84 28 3519 4282

Opening Hours: Mon to Fri 7.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. Sat to Sun 7.30 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.

It might seem somewhat strange to include a bar / cafe in a list of great things for kids to do, but Snap Cafe is a lot more than just a cafe. This is one of the best family based places to hang out in the entire city. It’s an open air, quirky, bamboo and thatch affair that caters especially for families. At the back is a large sandpit with climbing frames and other fun things to do.

The kids will play for hours whilst mum and dad enjoy a couple of beers and some comfy seats. There are a few small shops inside the complex as well, so you can come here, leave the kids playing, look at what’s on offer, and enjoy a game of pool. The kitchen serves up fantastic food as well. What more could you want?

Cu Chi Tunnels and Wildlife Rescue Station

About 1 hour out of town past the airport

The famous Cu Chi Tunnels were where the Viet Cong fighters hid out from the Allied forces in the war. There are hundreds of miles of tunnels running right across the south of the country. You can visit them and see just how grim it must have been for the soldiers back in time. Guests can crawl through the tiny tunnels, the perfect size for kids!

Whilst here drop into the Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station. The rangers do tremendous work rescuing animals in peril from all sorts of situations. You may get to see bears, wild cats, gibbons, turtles and many species of birds.

These are just a few suggestions among many of the top places to visit with children in Ho Chi Minh City.

What should you consider when choosing a school in HCMC?

By: City Pass Guide

The first step in choosing a school is to be clear on what you are looking for. Then, visit each school to learn more about their educational philosophy and values, and how they compare to your own. It is important to ask about the school’s accreditation, as well as the experience and credentials of the individual teachers. It is also important to ask about the school’s curriculum. Is it student-centred? Does the school provide special learning support? Are there extension programmes or other opportunities for excellence?

Photo: Playground for children at The European International School

A great way to review a school is to take a tour during school hours. Ask to visit classrooms, break times and sports lessons, and pay attention to how engaged and happy the children seem. Are the classrooms bright and welcoming? Are they well equipped? What are the class sizes? What kind of co-curricular activities are students involved in during the school day? How diverse is the student population? Are there sports programmes or clubs in which the students participate after school?

Student learning at Saigon South International School

Research shows that children whose parents are involved in their education do better than those whose parents aren’t. Therefore, it is important to find a school that encourages parental involvement and welcomes parents on campus. What methods do the teachers use to communicate with parents? Are there parent meetings with administrators? Is there a type of parent association?

Students in a workshop with actor and and motivational speaker Ben Walden at ABC International School

If possible try to communicate with someone from your home country who attends the school. Take time to look at the school’s website and read some of the school newsletters, parent letters or other publications. Talk to members of the community and see what they think of the school their children are attending.

Art class at The American School

It is also important to be dedicated to finding the best school for your child! Always consider your child’s unique interests, personality and abilities, and put these as the top priority when choosing where they should learn.

What about sending your child to an international school?

In order to receive an international education, you must be prepared financially. Tuition fees vary greatly, but schools with a more advanced English curriculum range between VND225M and VND450M per year. Discounts may apply to additional children but it’s still a lot of money if you’re not on an expat package that includes schooling - see if your employer is willing to salary-package the fees.

Music Class at Vietnam Australia International School

In addition to tuition fees, expect to pay extra for enrolment, placement, uniforms, extra-curricular activities, transportation and lunches. Even if you have no qualms about the school’s tuition and fees, there is still no guarantee that the best schools will admit your child. Keep the selection process and long waiting lists in mind when choosing.

What if you send your child to a Vietnamese school?

If you want your child to experience an authentic Vietnamese education, they can attend a Vietnamese school upon completion of a Vietnamese language test. International students who do not speak Vietnamese may participate in some master programmes available through Vietnamese universities in cooperation with international partners. The main advantages of Vietnamese schools are lower fees, a sense of hard work, respect and discipline. However, the lack of student-to-teacher interaction and extracurricular activities is often criticised along with the archaic, teacher-centred learning method that emphasises rote learning and a heavy workload.

What about home schooling?

Given the rising costs of education and the inconvenience of far-away schools, Vietnamese and expatriates alike are looking at home schooling as a possible solution. There is a wealth of information and support available on the internet for either a parent or recruited tutor to help homeschooled children succeed. Australia seems to be the acknowledged leader in the field of home-taught education.

What schools should you consider in HCMC?

 Check out Top 11 International Schools in HCMC or see the list below.

Nursery schools Primary schools Secondary schools

ABC International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- Ecole Boule & Billes
- International School Saigon Pearl
- KinderStar Preschool
- KinderWorld International Kindergarten
- Little Genius
- Little-Angels International Preschool
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Montessori International School
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon Kids Early Learning Centre
Saigon South International School
- Saigon Star International School
- Schools of North America
- SmartKids International Child Care Centres
The American School
The European International School HCMC
- Tiny Flower Montessori School
Vietnam Australia International School
- Western Australia School

- ABC International School
- American International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- International School HCMC
- International School Saigon Pearl
- Korean International School
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon South International School
- Saigon Star International School
- Schools of North America
- Singapore International School
- The American School
- The European International School HCMC
- The Japanese International School
- Vietnam Australia International School
- Western Australia School

- ABC International School
- American International School
- Asia Pacific College
- Australian International School Saigon
- British International School Vietnam HCMC
- British Vietnamese International School HCMC
- Canadian International School System
- Deutsche Schule HCMC (International German School)
- International School HCMC
- International School Saigon Pearl
- Korean International School
- Lycée Français International Marguerite Duras
- Renaissance International School Saigon
- Saigon International College
- Saigon South International School
- Schools of North America
- Singapore International School
- The American School
- The European International School HCMC
- The Japanese International School
- Vietnam Australia International School

Meet the Expert: Ellen Thompson on International School Life

By: City Pass Guide

Ellen Thompson is an American who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for close on 14 years. She came to teach English originally, and liked Vietnam and the people so much that she stayed. Saigon Star International School opened its doors in 2006. Ellen joined two years later as Headteacher. The school is in a particularly lush part of Saigon’s District 2. The location was chosen for its open space, clean air and green environment. An added bonus is the regular encounter with the local wildlife. Not many commuters get a traffic jam caused by a herd of buffalo! Having studied and worked in several different countries around the globe has given her a broad outlook on life and a keen interest in creating a supportive international school community.


Ellen Thompson - Saigon Star Internation School Principal


I sat down with Ellen to discuss life at an international school for her, her staff and of course, the pupils.

What changes have you seen both in education in HCMC and the city in general?

As far as Vietnam is concerned, there has been a huge increase in bilingual schools. They often split the days with the Vietnamese curriculum in the mornings and English in the afternoons. The popularity of these schools is due primarily to the Vietnamese wanting to give their children a head start learning English so as to give them more choices for higher education and better job opportunities. Many state schools are also incorporating programmes like the Cambridge curriculum to deliver a more diverse programme.

As for changes to the city, it is immense. You can’t miss all the new construction happening around. The skyline and suburbs are almost unrecognisable from when I first arrived.

How do you think education at an International School in HCMC compares to schools back home?

I think an international school education is equivalent to a private school education back home. The international schools in HCMC offer a very high standard of instruction and quality facilities. This is, of course, expected when a parent or company is paying such a large annual school fee.

From a private school perspective, it certainly holds its own against an equivalent school in America or the UK. The content is the same but the main advantage is the teacher-pupil ratios, which are much better here. Statistically, children that have been with us for more than three years are working well above their contemporaries from their home countries.

What are the greatest benefits and negative aspects of expat life for children in HCMC?

The greatest benefit, I think, is the huge broadening of a child’s attitude to cultural differences. They are growing up surrounded by different cultures and languages. They get to travel and experience things that many people only dream of. Also, our lifestyles are very different from back home, where most families wouldn’t even be able to consider having a housekeeper, driver or nanny.

The main negative is the limited number and range of extracurricular activities for children in the city. Things are improving, but very slowly. Apart from a few sports, music, art and drama programs, there are no community-organised leagues for children, like a YMCA. On a positive note, at least we now have an ice-rink in District 2.

How do teachers’ experiences here in HCMC compare to their home countries?

One of the reasons teachers often choose to teach internationally is that they feel overworked in their home countries. Since we don’t have the same level of bureaucracy, teachers are able to spend less time doing paperwork and benefit from a much better work-life balance.

Furthermore, teachers have much smaller class sizes, which means they feel capable of doing a much better job and making a much bigger difference.

Overall, their experience here is overwhelmingly positive and it is very rare for teachers to return to teaching in their home country after working here. When teachers do move on, it is often to another country, for another adventure.

How does an international school education differ from a Vietnamese one?

Again, the main difference is the size of the classes. Vietnamese schools generally have classes of up to 40-50 students and the delivery is usually lecture based with little practical work. Teaching strategies in international schools are more diverse, taking account of children’s different learning styles and differing levels of ability. There is also greater focus on developing a child’s creativity, with students studying art, music and drama to a far greater degree.

I know teachers are impressed by National Teachers’ Day, is this a big thing in Vietnam?

Teacher’s Day comes as a nice surprise for our teachers each year who, generally, have never experienced anything like it before. Without a doubt, teachers in this part of the world are respected far more than in the West so it is really nice for our teachers to feel appreciated for all their hard work and dedication. Whilst Teachers’ Day at international schools isn’t celebrated to the same extent as Vietnamese state schools, many teachers do receive flowers and other gifts from children, particularly from our Vietnamese families.

I know school costs in HCMC raise eyebrows among some parents. Why is it so expensive?

Providing the high-quality facilities and professional, well-qualified, native teachers that parents expect costs a significant amount of money. Having said that, at Saigon Star we do try so hard to keep our costs down in other areas and pass those benefits onto parents, because we understand that education is a huge financial commitment lasting many years. However, in modern society, people often see the most expensive schooling as the best, although that is not always the case. I firmly believe at Saigon Star we deliver the same high-quality education for much less.

What is your opinion on so-called unconventional teaching methods? Do you stick to a rigid formula or are you more open to accepting new ideas?

There is no correct formula for teaching. As a school we do try to adopt the best methods that we have seen from around the world, for example, by incorporating Montessori as part of our early years programme, but teaching is more of an art than a science. There are many ways to achieve the desired result, and each teacher will approach it in a different way. Part of building a good team is finding teachers with different personalities and skill sets from which pupils will benefit during their time at school. 

Rote* learning still has its place when learning knowledge, but knowledge, skills and understanding are all taught, learned and assessed differently and therefore require different approaches. Our teachers know this and plan each lesson depending on what it is that is being taught. What we know about how children learn is changing all the time, which means we also need to ensure we keep up to date and continue to support our teachers with new ideas. Even as educators, we never stop learning.

Does having children of different nationalities affect discipline?

At Saigon Star behavioural issues are practically non-existent and I’m sure it is the same for other international schools. Our students tend to come from supportive families, which makes a big difference, so it is not really a question of nationality. I’d say as well that children here are not exposed to the same societal problems that we have back in our countries. Having students learn alongside children from other parts of the world actually creates cultural harmony rather than the other way around.

*Rote learning is learning through repetition and memory, i.e. multiplication tables.

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