From the ground up

Building a strong education system by supporting teachers

UNICEF Jacqueline Labrador
Students at Phonkeo Primary School are encouraged by their teachers to do a variety of learning activities such as group work.
UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador

12 February 2019

Bounheng Phommavongsy has been an educator for over 13 years. He is the principal of Phonkeo Primary School in Saravane province, Laos and when he is not teaching, he oversees satellite schools and the education cluster in the area. In the last few years, Bounheng has noticed a change in the teachers of Phonkeo Primary, they are happier, more motivated and take less time off work. He attributes this change to the increased support the school has been receiving from the pedagogical advisors from the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES). “I have been monitoring classes,” said Bounheng and since our teachers have been participating in the new cluster meetings and receiving more insight from pedagogical advisors the quality of teaching is getting much better.”

The pedagogical advisor system was developed over 10 years ago by MoES, and designed to aid schools in the form of specific trainings and continuous on-the-job advisory support for principals and teachers in classroom management, teaching skills and techniques, relationship building, lesson planning, monitoring and evaluation. UNICEF is ensuring continued training for pedagogical advisors, so they can receive consistent capacity building opportunities to update their knowledge and skills. The skills that pedagogical advisors acquire have in turn helped teachers to adapt their lesson plans, build up confidence in teaching and develop healthier relationships with students. 

Teachers have been taught new methods to engage with their students like identifying those who are struggling and giving them a bit of extra attention.
UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador
Teachers have been taught new methods to engage with their students like identifying those who are struggling and giving them a bit of extra attention.

UNICEF has contributed to build the capacity of MoES staff to train the pedagogical advisors which adds to the overall strengthening of the education system to improve equity and quality of education, so children can complete the full cycle of basic education and meet numeracy literacy standards.

Soukvongsack Bouasala, the pedagogical advisor for the area, participated in an initial training in 2013 with additional training in 2018 and said after the most recent UNICEF supported training he felt more confident and was much clearer on how he could help schools and increase student performance. He observes classes, assesses student performance and then works with teachers and principals to identify ways to improve and develop more effective techniques. His new way of working helps to establish a two-way relationship of mutual trust which is helping teachers and students excel. To help teachers succeed he observe classes to understand the structure of the lessons and sits with teachers to discuss how they are doing and demonstrates new techniques. “I don’t tell them what to do,” he said, “I demonstrate and show them new ideas, use a lot of positive reinforcement and let them have a lot of input.”

Students are feeling more comfortable and encouraged by their teachers which is resulting in improved test scores.
UNICEF Laos/2019/Labrador
Students are feeling more comfortable and encouraged by their teachers which is resulting in improved test scores.

Teachers and pedagogical advisors learned from past mistakes. Previously, they focused on student and teacher weaknesses, and rigid teaching rules. They now work together to focus on student learning, using group work, providing more materials and having students help each other. UNICEF provided monitoring and mentoring support by the pedagogical advisor team which showed improved learning outcomes of students.

 This group work approach through the school cluster system has also improved teacher’s performance. Around 12 schools participate in education cluster meetings to discuss techniques, strategies and to learn from each other. Vienchanh Inthavongsa teaches grade 2 and is getting a lot of help from the cluster approach. She has seen a change in her students’ performance and noticed a difference in their relationship with her as well. They feel more comfortable talking with her and this has changed the classroom dynamic. The learning performance of her students varies, but those who are struggling are showing improvement. “I feel a lot happier with my job now,” she says, while adding: “all of the teachers are reporting increased job satisfaction.” Soukvongsack notices this change in students and in the teachers too. “It takes time for teachers to change old behaviors, but things have improved a lot and I think it will continue to improve with support from MoES and UNICEF.”