A New Way of Teaching and Learning for the New-Normal
The Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF and its partners the EU and GPE, are equipping teachers in Lao PDR with the digital technology and knowledge to support teaching and learning activities during COVID-19 and beyond.
Education around the world has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is no different in Lao PDR, where students were barred from their schools intermittently throughout 2020 and 2021 as COVID-19 cases soared.
One of the individuals directly involved in education and who witnessed first-hand the impacts of the pandemic on children’s learning is Ms. Vaed Vilaysouk, a grade one teacher at Nong Gok Primary School in Nonghed district, Xiengkhouang province
“Our school was forced to close for almost three months in late 2021. Many of my students do not have access to mobile phones for us to be able to fully implement online lessons. Some of the parents also cannot read or write and so they were not able to help teach the children at home. Teaching and learning for our class came to a complete standstill.”
However, the situation has changed considerably since then for Lao PDR. Thanks to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign by the Lao Government, cases of COVID-19 have been steadily declining. The Lao Government, WHO and UNICEF have also worked together to ensure that schools were able to safely reopen. Finally, after many months away, students are now back in the classroom and are able to meet with their peers and teachers once more.
Nevertheless, the effects of the extended school closures still linger in classrooms, as was the case with Ms. Vilaysouk’s own class. She recounts with concern how many of her students had trouble catching up with their lessons afterwards.
In response to the teaching and learning challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), in partnership with the EU, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF, developed Khang Panya Lao (Lao Wisdom Warehouse), the first digital teaching and learning platform of its kind in Lao PDR. It serves as a repository of all key learning and teaching materials for children and teachers across the country, containing within it all official curriculum textbooks for pre-primary and grades 1-12, a large suite of international resources, stories, songs, videos, games and quizzes as well as teaching and learning resources for teachers and materials to support their professional development.
More than 10 local development partners, including the Australian Embassy, JICA, Save the Children, UNESCO, USAID and the World Bank have contributed learning content to the platform all of which can be accessed online via the Khang Panya Lao website and application. Content can also be downloaded and accessed offline via the app, enabling improved access in areas where there is limited or no internet connectivity. By May 2022, Khang Panya Lao had already reached close to 90,000 users across all provinces of Lao PDR.
As part of the Khang Panya Lao initiative, MoES and UNICEF are organising teacher trainings in targeted districts and provinces to familiarize the teachers with the platform, explain how it can be accessed, how to navigate its contents and how to use the platform as part of teaching and learning in the classroom and at home. In addition, UNICEF, thanks to support from the EU and GPE, is also distributing tablets to schools, so that teachers can use Khang Panya Lao in classrooms. Access to such devices – which is extremely rare especially in rural parts of Laos - contributes to increased digital learning in classrooms and improved digital literacy among both teachers and their students.
Ms. Vilaysouk was among the teachers who took part in one of these trainings in Xiengkhouang in early April 2022, alongside approximately 75 other teachers and school principals from Nonghed district.
During the training, Ms. Vilaysouk’s passion for her role as an educator of 11 years shone through. She concentrated on every word from the trainers, absorbing as much information as possible about the platform.
“Learning to use Khang Panya Lao is not difficult at all if you really put your mind into it. I think the platform will be very useful for my students to supplement their learning and make it more fun,” she noted.
She also added that Khang Panya Lao will also be useful for herself too as it contains many helpful resources about teaching methods and explanations of concepts that is quite new to her.
“Before the training, I have never actually heard about Khang Panya Lao or touched a tablet before in my life. However, the training has helped me feel more confident about navigating the platform, using its content to teach my class and showing others how they can also use the platform for themselves.”
Ms. Vilaysouk is hopeful about the future of education in Lao PDR and Khang Panya Lao.
“I believe that as digital infrastructures in Lao PDR continue to improve and access to digital technology becomes more widespread, especially in remote areas, Khang Panya Lao will have an even greater role to play in advancing education for Lao children during the pandemic and beyond.”
In addition to Xiengkhouang, MoES and UNICEF have also run Khang Panya Lao trainings in Saravanh, Savannakhet and Vientiane provinces, with 515 teachers, principals and education staff having been trained so far. More trainings in other districts and provinces are being organised across the country.
Khang Panya Lao is adapted from the Learning Passport, a digital learning platform created by UNICEF and Microsoft Corporation to ensure continuous access to education for children out of school. The Learning Passport was also named by Times Magazine as one of the 100 best inventions of 2021 and was a finalist for the Education and Developing-World Technology in Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.