Since 2015, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), with support from the Australian Government and the European Union though the BEQUAL program, has been developing the new primary teacher education curriculum to train future primary teachers how to teach in a primary classroom using the new primary curriculum. Both curricula are developed at the same time and focus on active teaching and learning adopting a student-centered pedagogical approach. The implementation started in September 2019 with a new Year 1 curriculum taught in the 8 Teacher Training Colleges (TTC) and a new Grade 1 taught in all primary schools. In parallel, curriculum writers are preparing the curriculum for the next years. In July, six writers for the English curriculum and nine writers for the Lao Language curriculum, attended two intense five-days workshops with online and in person support from international experts and the Teacher Development Center. The purpose of these workshops was to develop and finalize the curriculum materials for year 2 of the new Primary Teacher Training curriculum for Lao Language and English. Those two subjects are particularly challenging due to a large number of lessons that the writers have to develop, covering a lot of content and different teaching approaches.
The specialized workshops provided much needed support for the two curriculum writing teams so they would be able to finalize the materials. Both teams are closely aligning their curriculum to the primary curriculum, which means they have to integrate the new language approaches from the primary curriculum into the primary teacher education curriculum. The Lao language team worked on the module on writing which focusses on how primary aged students learn to write and how to teach them writing. During the next workshop, they will receive guidance on teaching Lao to ethnic students which will be the last module they will develop. They will reflect on strategies for teacher-students to learn how best to teach Lao Language to primary students with a different language background. The English team worked to integrate the phonics approach into their curriculum. In the new English primary curriculum, phonics will be taught to students in Grades 3 to 5 to support them in developing literacy skills in English.
Teaching English phonics is a new approach for English teachers in Laos and consequently, it also needs to be included in the new English pre-service curriculum. Responding to the COVID-19 situation, the Ministry and BEQUAL developed new ways to organize workshops using online platforms so remote teams or with teams scattered could work with specialists. The Lao Language training was delivered by an international teacher curriculum specialist who video called from Dubai. She zoomed in daily and supported the writers through plenary sessions followed by individual meetings to provide technical advice on teaching writing including strategies, approaches and ideas for lessons. The curriculum writers have to master two tasks during the workshops – they have to learn about the new pedagogical approaches, and at the same time integrate them into the primary teacher education curriculum. This is very challenging, but the writers are highly motivated and hard working to ensure a better-quality primary education.