Improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools and teacher training institutions, especially in the most disadvantaged areas will be a key outcome of BEQUAL.
One aim is to increase the number of ethnic teachers, especially women, teaching in remote villages. The notion of local or ‘homegrown’ teachers is considered vital in the Lao context. Homegrown teachers provide more sustainable solutions to three big system issues.
Firstly, local teachers stay, alleviating teacher shortages and high staff turnover in remote and disadvantaged locations. Secondly, local ethnic teachers act as role models for ethnic students, encouraging them to succeed in a country where too few ethnic students succeed.
Thirdly, local ethnic teachers better understand the language and culture of their ethnic students. This helps to provide a better quality learning experience and in doing so increases the likelihood that students remain in school.
BEQUAL is supporting 520 ethnic student teachers, two-thirds of them women, by offering scholarships to undertake teacher training in order to become a teacher in their village primary school.
For those selected into the BEQUAL program the course offers a daunting challenge, along with a world of opportunities, yet another step along the difficult path for these young people.
Many of our student teachers are from the families of poor subsistence rice farmers who have grown up in a context where cyclic food shortages are an annual event. Most come from big families – seven, eight or nine children is common. Some are the oldest of the siblings, some are the youngest. Many have lost a parent. Some have lost two.
Coming from poor villages they are struck on arrival at the Teacher Training College and the provincial capital by the array of buildings, roads, cars and infrastructure. To reach the Teacher Training Colleges they have often travelled for two days by boat, by tractor, by motorbike or bus, and even by walking through jungle-covered mountains crossing rivers on precarious swing bridges. They have entered a new world.
Some walked several kilometres a day to reach secondary school, some have walked ten kilometres lugging a sack of rice on their backs, returning home each weekend, others stayed with relatives where in return for board they performed all sorts of domestic duties from cooking and house cleaning in addition to the burden of studying in their second or even third or fourth language.
For some students, they are the first in their village to complete lower secondary school. Some carry the weight of village expectations on their shoulders. Many are motivated to help others out of the endless cycle of poverty by returning to their home villages to teach the most disadvantaged, to develop self and community.
Sometimes they are homesick. But thinking of parents and siblings toiling each day under the hot sun in a rice field that will never feed the family for a full year, their motivation lifts again. They look around and see the benefits of their scholarships: new clothes, for some their first pair of shoes; money to buy food, books and stationery; travel money to return home at the end of each semester and the knowledge that if they get sick they are covered by health insurance. And at the end they will be qualified primary teachers.
This is one challenge they will overcome!
“The scholarship does not only support my studies, it also support the accommodation, health care, travel expenses and other necessities.” Lar Ja Nga
“I got a chance to meet with a lot of people from different ethnic communities. We become good friends who help and support each other. We also learn new a culture and language.” Mr Khao Thaipaseuth
“I am very proud that I can further my education as a teacher. My parents who cannot support me to study are also proud of me.” Miss Khaen Keomany
“The primary school in my village does not have enough teachers. Therefore, I am glad to be trained as a teacher at the teacher training centre. I will go back to my village to teach at the school there.” Mr Asa Xaejorthu
“The scholarship allows me to further my education and develop my skills. I am happy that the scholarship has reached our ethnic community in a very remote area.” Miss Lidavanh Sithivong