Between Grades 1–3, students learn upright and slanted cursive letters, as part of the mẫu chữ thảo tiếng việt, or Vietnamese official cursive script, which was adopted in 2002. No print script letters are taught.
In Vietnam, the Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo, or Ministry of Education and Training, is responsible for education at all levels. It sets out broad policy guidelines, while its Centre for Curriculum Development and General Methodology of Education handles all curriculum research and development. Vietnamese is the national language, and written in the Latin script. The Vietnamese alphabet is known as Quốc ngữ locally, and accents are used to represent tones in the language. Since 2008, English is also a compulsory subject from Grade 3.
Children start with preschool (3 months–6 years old) followed by primary education comprising Grade 1–5 (6–10 years old), and then lower secondary, comprising Grade 6–9 (11–14 years old), and finally upper secondary, comprising Grade 10–12 (15–17 years old). Of these, primary education is free and compulsory, and students are obligated to attend school till the end of lower secondary. Schools are primarily state-funded and public, though private schools also exist.
The Ministry publishes the General Education Curriculum, which must be followed by all schools, whether public or private. The last iteration was released in 2018, with the goal of being implemented in primary schools by 2020-21.
An official handwriting model for teaching in primary schools was adopted in 2002 through Decision 31/2002/QĐ-BGD&ĐT. It is called the mẫu chữ thảo tiếng việt, or Vietnamese official cursive script, and has been in use from academic year 2002-03 onwards. Like the curriculum, it must be followed across the country. Based on this model, students learn to write in both upright and (optionally) sloped cursive letters, without ever being taught print script letters. However, they do practice drawing the basic strokes that make up letters in preparation. Handwriting education happens between Grades 1 to 3, and while students are introduced to writing using a pencil, they graduate to writing with fountain pens while they are still in primary school.
Good cursive handwriting has been considered very important in Vietnamese culture. Students are known to prioritise developing it as a prized skill, and handwriting competitions for school students have enjoyed a great degree of prestige in the country.
The Quốc ngữ script, a Latin orthography based on the French alphabet, was introduced as a writing system for Vietnamese in the 17th century. It was developed by French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes and Portuguese missionaries, Francisco de Pina, Gaaspar do Amaral, and Antonio Barbosa. Previously, Vietnamese had been written using two logographic writing systems: Chữ Hán and Chữ Nôm, a result of the region’s Chinese occupation. In 1869, French authorities made Quốc ngữ script compulsory for administrative documents to use this new script.
Lettering and handwriting books focused on the Quốc ngữ script, published in the 20th century before the reunification of Vietnam, had clear European influences. A 1923 teacher’s handbook by Thanh Tùng, for instance, showcased the Latin alphabet in Copperplate style, which originated in England. It should also be noted that upon independence from France in 1945, the country inherited an education system that was modelled after its French counterpart. And while the system has been overhauled since, its impact can still be seen in the prevalent handwriting model taught in schools today, which is a narrow, upright cursive with decorative uppercase, not dissimilar in style to the French Méthode Dumont.
The current model is the result of successive reforms in education, starting from 1981. Before that a common Latin typeface was used as a model for handwriting teaching. A new handwriting model was introduced in 1981, but it received public criticism due to its departure from the previous style. It was replaced in 1986 by an early version of the letterforms introduced in 2002. Known as mẫu chữ thảo tiếng việt, the current model is featured in widely-used textbooks, such as Dạy và học Tập viết ở Tiểu học, or Teaching and Learning Writing in Elementary School, published by Nhà Xuất Bản Giáo Dục Việt Nam, the only publisher with government authorisation to produce textbooks until 2018.