Since 2015, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) with the support of the Australian Government through the BEQUAL program has been developing a new national primary curriculum along with new teaching and learning materials and a complete training plan for the primary teachers. The implementation started in September 2019 with one new grade per year. The strong collaboration between Australia and MoES has continued amid the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
The development of the curriculum is an important first step to improving education for Lao children. The second step is to ensure that teachers know how to use these new curriculum materials in their classrooms.
The face-to-face training of all the Grade 3 teachers and pedagogical advisors of the 148 districts began on 26th July 2021 and is still ongoing. Today, H.E. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phout Simmalavong, Minister of Education and Sports and H.E. Paul Kelly, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR visited Donnokhoum Primary School, Vientiane Capital to observe a Grade 3 teacher training session. They attended the morning session on Lao Language, discussed with teachers and trainers to receive their impressions and comments on the new curriculum and training, and they officially handed over a new handbook for Lao Language.
The new improved curriculum adopts a new pedagogy with a focus on active learning. Students now learn through hands-on experience and practical application of their knowledge. It represents a big change in teaching and learning approaches and teacher training is a key instrument to support this change. During the visit, the two trainers facilitating the workshop recognized that the training is more effective this year as teachers have already been exposed to the new pedagogy via their Grade 1 and 2 colleagues. It is also their third year as Provincial Trainers, so they have more experience themselves.
During the 4-days training, the teachers receive an overview of the new Grade 3 curriculum content, materials, and pedagogical approach for four subjects: Lao Language, Sciences and Environment, English, and Physical Education. They explore, test, and reflect on different classroom activities built around active learning through teaching practice activities. They are also orientated on the new multigrade model and take part in multigrade teaching demonstrations. There is an increased focus on gender and inclusive education and each training module provides practical gender and inclusive education strategies that teachers can implement in their classroom.
This is the second year in which the training for the new curriculum is taking place during COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions requiring changes in delivery. The Minister and the Ambassador congratulated all Ministry of Education and BEQUAL staff involved in the organization of the training for the Covid-19 prevention measures in place, especially PESS and DESB workshop administrators. The training started on the first day with a presentation on how to implement COVID-19 essential prevention measures such as wearing masks, regular handwashing with soap or gel, room ventilation, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
At the end of their visit, H.E. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phout Simmalavong and H.E. Paul Kelly officially handed over the Handbook for Lao Language to the teachers. The contributors to the book include Dr Onekeo Nuanavong, Director General of the Research Institute for Educational Sciences (RIES), academics from the National University of Laos, the National Institute for Social Science and Lao Language experts from RIES. It was edited by Vice Ministers from MOES and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. This handbook represents the current standard for Lao Language in areas such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, vowels, consonants, tone markers, numbers and counting, abbreviations and acceptable forms of writing and spacing and is endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Sports as the authority for Lao Language. Teachers and principals will use the Handbook for Lao Language as a reference for teaching and learning Lao language. The Australian Government has provided support to the MoES for the printing of 13,100 copies of the Handbook for Lao Language.
Australia and Lao PDR have a long partnership in education, sharing a mutual interest in improving learning outcomes of all girls and boys of primary-school age, particularly those experiencing disadvantage. Providing well planned, quality in-service teacher training is critical to the success of the new primary curriculum, and ultimately to the students themselves.