This richness of diversity also presents a challenge for the primary teachers of the province. The young children of the ethnic groups start school unable to speak Lao. It is difficult for these non-Lao speakers to learn, with instruction, textbooks and educational materials in Lao language.
In August 2016, the Provincial Education and Sports Service (PESS) in Xiangkhouang was awarded a BEQUAL Education Innovation Fund (BEIF) grant. BEIF is designed to encourage new thinking and new ways of working in basic education. With half of the primary students in the province starting school unable to speak Lao language, Mme Nuansy and her team at the PESS developed an innovative approach to improve teaching methods for Lao language.
Before becoming the Head of Pre and Primary Education Division of Xiangkhouang PESS, Mme Nuansy was a Pedagogical Advisor (PA). She then observed that many teachers did not have a full understanding of the Lao language system, especially grammar, pronunciation and the different Lao tones.
To improve teachers’ ability to teach Lao for all primary grades, she decided to establish a Lao language working team composed of four experienced PA’s now working at the PESS. They shared their experience of teaching ethnic minority students, their observations from the classrooms and their ideas to boost learning for non-Lao speakers. Together, they gathered their best solutions from real teaching experience and developed training tools, teaching materials and a handbook of supplementary guidelines for teachers of grades 1 and 2, and a further handbook for grades 3, 4 and 5.
“When teachers understand the specifics of their mother tongue, they are better able to teach their students Lao language, so the training handbook gives precise instructions for teachers – such as how to teach ending consonants to Hmong speakers and tone mark differences to Khmu speakers,” states Madam Nuansy. “Moreover, the new project encourages teachers to use local stories and the local environment to learn key vocabulary and sound patterns. We hope this will result in a teaching approach that is more relevant to the local culture and more engaging and accessible to the children. Most importantly, we hope it will boost Lao language acquisition.”
A 5-day training was delivered as a pilot program to 91 teachers from grades 1 to 5 in 12 schools in the province. The team then supported teachers through regular classroom visits, offering advice mentoring and technical support.
Teachers are very pleased with their new skills. “I had never learnt how to teach the structure of Lao language before, I can now explain clearly to my students how to write sentences in Lao and identify parts of a sentence. This has helped children’s reading comprehension” said Ms Viengkeo from Syphom primary school. “My students are asking more questions” confirms Mr Souksavanh, teacher and also deputy-director of from Nongnam School.
Although the project has only been running seven months, monitoring has shown more active participation from the children. Teachers’ classroom approach and activities have changed; they use resources known to the children, that they collect locally in the forest or nearby environment. The use of individual writing boards has helped teachers involve all children and assess students’ real progress… and the atmosphere in the classroom is now buzzing!