Education: Pass or Rot

In South Viet Nam a student who passes an exam is a dau; a flunkster is called a rot. A schoolchild clever enough to remain a dau through 13 years of classes and pass his bachot (baccalaureate exam) becomes a tri thuc (intellectual), and has few further worries. The young nation has a shortage of scholars and a Confucian reverence for learning, and young male tri thucs get autos, villas and high-paying jobs from rich parents of marriageable daughters.

But Viet Nam inherited a rigid, rigorous school system from the French. Huge hoppers of facts must be memorized, and exams are tough....