Given its modest position as a lower-middle-income country, vietnam stands out from the rest of the world with its remarkable performance on standardised test scores, school enrolment, and completed years of schooling. We provide an overview of the factors behind this exemplary performance both from an institutional viewpoint and by analysing several different data sources, some of which have rarely been used. Some of the highlights are universal primary school enrolment, higher girls net enrolment rates, and the role of within-commune individual factors. We further discuss a host of challenges for the countrymost of which have received insufficient attention to date. 2017 Informa uk limited, trading as taylor & francis group.