An enthusiasm for education: improving learning in rural Laos by supporting teachers

An enthusiasm for education: improving learning in rural Laos by supporting teachers

UNICEF Laos
06 August 2019
Chanthaphone Duangmalay is the principal and grade 5 teacher of Tahouak Primary school.
UNICEF Laos/2019/Bart Verweij
Chanthaphone Duangmalay is the principal and grade 5 teacher of Tahouak Primary school.

Chanthaphone Duangmalay opens the door of his classroom while one of his students helps by opening the shutters, so the light can stream in. The class has just finished watching an educational video as part of their maths lesson, and they will now have an interactive discussion. Chanthaphone has been teaching grade 5 at Tahouak Primary School for two years and is also the school principal, he now has a new outlook on teaching thanks to the support of Pedagogical Advisors (PA) trained under UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Sports Partnership to Strengthen the Education System (PSES).” The most important thing I took from the support of the Pedagogical Advisor was to prepare myself. Whether it is maths, history, or any other subject, I had to learn to make a teaching plan.” Chanthaphone began to develop classes that would be interesting and engaging for his students and, just as importantly, classes that he found interesting. Creating lesson plans and educating himself in interesting topics saw him bring additional knowledge and enthusiasm into his classes that the more traditional approach had lacked. “Now we have to think ahead, think about what will be useful to the students and make sure they will find it interesting.”

These changes Chanthaphone experienced were part of the new initiative from PSES, supported by the European Union, that focuses on new styles of training for Pedagogical Advisors to provide them with skills to support individual teachers and school cluster systems. School clusters are designed to be on-the job professional support networking for teachers and principals of nearby schools as a peer-to-peer support network. They brainstorm to improve teaching skills and work together to come up with solutions to problems. This support system became a vital component of the PSES project that aims to improve basic education and education sector governance, planning and budgeting. PAs would be better able to address poor teaching and learning practices in the classroom and the negative consequences these had for student participation and learning.

Chanthaphone Duangmalay
UNICEF Laos/2019/Bart Verweij
“The Pedagogical Advisor’s support helps me, the teachers in my school and my cluster very well. He provides us with new ideas, teaching techniques and ways we can all work together” - Chanthaphone Duangmalay

The Pedagogical Advisor responsible for working with the Tahouak cluster and school and with Chanthaphone who acts as the cluster lead is Somkit Matthavong. He visits all his target schools at least two times a month. During his visits, he helps with preparing lesson plans, development of teaching/learning materials, improving teaching methods to engage students in learning actively.  Chanthaphone said, “Being the school principal/cluster chair really helps me with teachers’ professional development as we work on exchanging experiences, observing lessons and providing feedback. The PA helps us with this by demonstrating new techniques.”

After working with Somkit, Chanthaphone began to see a real change in how students were engaging in class. “Students were paying attention. Before they were missing a lot of school or just not attending. Now we see much higher attendance rates.”With the assistance of the PA, Chanthaphone, and other teachers can now identify students with low learning performance. Once students have been identified, teachers develop strategies to improve their performance by changing their teaching/learning techniques. Attendance and performance has improved dramatically in Tahouak primary school. Chanthaphone thinks things can improve even more with continued support from the PA’s and trialling some new techniques. “In my school, we are teaching multi-level classes and all of our students are from ethnic minority background and do not speak Lao at home. We would like to get support on multi-grade classes and more techniques on how to engage with students, whose first language is not Lao.

Children at Tahouk primary school finishing up their lesson waiting for the school lunch to be served.
UNICEF Laos/2019/Bart Verweij
Children at Tahouk primary school finishing up their lesson waiting for the school lunch to be served.

The Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS II) shows that only 25 per cent of students aged three to four years meet literacy and numeracy standards. These low rates mean that most children are already behind when they reach primary school. Sustainable peer-to-peer support mechanisms to tackle low attendance rates and educational quality can drastically improve learning outcomes. Chanthaphone is determined to share his success story to other schools across the province. Two other local primary schools are already sending school committee members to meet with him and observe classes. “They are really interested in what they are seeing, and I’m sure they will change their approach too.” The changes that Chanthaphone has witnessed, has convinced him that PA support will continue to improve education in Saravane, “This is a future vision, it’s not something that can just be stopped.”