Since the new national primary curriculum was introduced in 2019, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) of Lao PDR, in partnership with the Australian government through the BEQUAL program, has provided extra financial and technical support to 28 target District Education and Sports Bureaus (DESBs) in six provinces – Phongsaly, Luangnamtha, Khammouane, Savannakhet, Salavan and Sekong.
The new national primary curriculum is a major change to primary teaching and learning in Lao PDR. It will take time for all teachers to fully understand and apply the new active teaching and learning techniques. The purpose of the support being provided by MoES is to build the capacity of target DESB staff to help teachers to use the new curriculum and supplementary teaching and learning resources. The support includes grant funding, capacity building of DESB staff, training, and provision of electronic data collection tools.
The school year 2022-23 is the fourth year that Ministry of Education and Sports and Australia provided extra grants to target districts, totally 979,521,000 LAK. In 2022-23he grants enabled DESB teams to conduct 4,246 visits to grade 4 classrooms.
Ajan Keth Phanlak, Director General of the Department of Teacher Education at MoES said “The DESBs can use the grants to make pedagogical support and monitoring visits to schools and clusters. The DESBs are encouraged to give greater priority to visiting schools in remote communities where a high percentage of students come from non-Lao speaking backgrounds, and to focus on supporting teachers with the new curriculum implementation.”
During the school year, the DESBs also ensure that teachers receive regular remote follow-up support between in-person visits. To bring about meaningful change in teachers’ behaviors and an improvement in the quality of teaching it is recommended that teachers receive remote support every two weeks. Remote support can include a check-in phone call, WhatsApp/SMS messages, support for teachers to arrange a peer-observation of a teacher in the same school or a neighboring school, and support for teachers to give an receive peer support by identifying another teacher to be their “buddy”.
Over the years, DESB and BEQUAL teams have observed the benefits of the extra support provided to teachers. The majority of teachers in the target districts are using active learning practices. The most frequently observed techniques were students working in pairs or groups and teachers using open-ended questioning with students. The percentage of teachers observed using the assessment approaches is increasing year by year. There were encouragingly high rates of safe and inclusive education practices observed in classrooms by DESBs in 2022-23.
Ajan Vilaivone Dengdara, Provincial Trainer in Sekong province. She said “Thanks to the grants, I can visit remote schools three times per semester. I use many different tools to support the teachers like classroom observations, co-teaching, and WhatsApp groups. I can see improvements in the teaching with each visit. I can also see that students are more engaged, participate actively in class activities and help each other.”
The feedback from teachers is equally positive. Ajan Syfeung Chanthavilai from Lamam district said: “I teach a multigrade class, grades 2 and 3, which is very challenging. The visits from the DESB helped me to find solutions when I had a problem and gave me advice on how to improve my teaching. I can explain my challenges and the DESB staff can advise me about specific techniques to try. For example, based on advice I received about classroom management I created a classroom rule poster, and a rewarding poster, which help me to reward positive behaviour in class. I can also now understand the student assessment record with the rubrics. I also discuss and share experiences and ideas with the other teachers in my school. And I can send a message to the DESB or the WhatsApp groups if I have a question.”
In 2023-24, the Australian Government through the BEQUAL program will continue to support these target districts with grants to complete the implementation of the new primary curriculum to Grade 5. Grants will also be provided to new target districts to support teacher professional development, in the catchment areas of three Teacher Training Colleges (TTC), Luang Namtha TTC, Kang Khay TTC, and Savannakhet TTC.
This transition will ensure Australian government support continues to align with the priorities of MoES’ Education and Sports Sector Development Plan, which include building on curriculum renewal achievements through a focus on continuing professional development for teachers. The shared goal of Australia and Lao PDR in making this transition is to improve teaching quality and student learning outcomes, with TTCs at the centre of MoES’ new national teacher continuous professional development system.