What makes a good school?

Lao PDR rolls out Study to understand why certain Lao schools outperform others to help identify better practices

Siriphone Siriphongphanh
13 January 2021

Over the last decade, Lao PDR has made steady progress in expanding access to education. However, the 2017 Learning Assessment conducted by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES), found that many Lao students currently do not meet the expected learning standards. Only one in three Grade 3 students met literacy standards for promotion to Grade 4, and only one in five students met the standards for mathematics. In addition, the 2019 Southeast Asia assessment of learning outcomes show Lao Grade 5 students are not mastering reading, writing, math skills they need to learn at Grade 5. The Southeast Asia-Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) results show only 2.5% of Grade 5 students have reached the minimum proficiency level  for the grade, and 0% in math.

The very low student achievement continues in lower secondary education.The latest assessment of student learning outcomes in 2019 revealed that 90 per cent of Grade 9 students perform at basic proficiency level in Lao Language and about half of Grade 9 students do not meet the basic level in science and hardly any meet proficiency level.  

To address this learning crisis, the quality of education must be enhanced while also expanding its access. Evidence suggests that the academic performance of students from some schools in Lao PDR exceed those of their peers from other schools in similar contexts and with similar resources, even in the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) undertake a study to identify those ‘positive deviant’ schools in order to learn why they are highly effective and are doing so well despite the challenges. It is expected that this research will contribute to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the education system.

The study is a part of the EU-funded Partnership for Strengthening the Education System of Lao PDR (PSES) programme. Sixty enumerators from teacher training college and MoES are deployed to survey 120 primary schools in eight selected provinces across the country: Houaphanh, Xieng Khouang, Bokeo, Luang Prabang, Champasak, Savannakhet, Vientiane Province and Vientiane Capital.

Ms Thippphaphone Vongxay, an officer from MoES, is involved in the planning of the positive deviant school study and testing the questionnaires. She was also responsible for a teacher interview on a pre-trial at Nongsonghong School in Xaythany District, in Vientiane capital.

“This study aims to identify best practices applied by the high performing schools with similar contexts and with similar resources,” says Thipphaphone. “I believe this study will make a significant contribution to improving the effectiveness of the education system.”

Thipphaphone Vongxay interviewing a teacher at Nongsonghong School in Xaythany District.
UNICEF Laos/2020/SSiriphongphanh
Thipphaphone Vongxay interviewing a teacher at Nongsonghong School in Xaythany District.

Before being deployed to the schools, the enumerators received a three-day training on six different questionnaires for students, teachers, school principal, Village Education Development Committees (VEDC), District Education and Sports Bureau (DESB) and Teacher Performance and School Block Grant. Participants also learnt to use technological equipment such as Tablets to record data. They were deployed to schools for trials.

For the actual data collection, UNICEF engaged teachers from Teacher Training Colleges (TTC) as enumerators aiming to build their their capacity in data collection and their understanding on critical issues and good practices in schools.

Enumerator Sengsoulee Dindavong interviewing a student at Nasala School in Xaythany District.
UNICEF Laos/2020/SSiriphongphanh
Enumerator Sengsoulee Dindavong interviewing a student at Nasala School in Xaythany District

Mr Sengsoulee Dindavong is one of the enumerators deployed to collect data. He went for his pre-trial in Nasala Primary School in Vientiane,  where he encountered a few challenges.

“Communication is always an obstacle while interviewing students from Grade 3 to 5. They are usually shy and silent,” says Sengsoulee. “So, I ask questions in a more child-friendly way, so these young children respond,” he added.

This co-created and co-implemented MoES-UNICEF study is co-funded by the EU Partnership for Strengthening the Education System of Lao PDR (PSES) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)/International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Knowledge Innovation Exchange (KIX) initiative. It is part of the multi-country Data Must Speak (DMS) research initiative on positive deviance approaches: a research aiming at understanding why certain schools outperform others and help identify better practices to improve learning, carried out by the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti involving nine other countries across Africa and Asia.

By identifying ‘positive deviant schools’ and the ‘good practices’ behind their success, essential lessons for improving the education system in Lao PDR can be extracted. The research sets out to identify the policies through which MoES can incentivize the implementation of such “good practices” to improve teaching and learning in all schools – particularly those most disadvantaged while promoting more efficient management of the school system.

Preliminary findings of this study are expected to be available by mid-2021.