Last week the Department of Teacher Education (DTE) from the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR (MoES), with support from the Australian Government through the BEQUAL program, launched the Education Support Grants (ESG) training for 28 eligible districts in six provinces – Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, Khammouane, Savannakhet, Salavan and Sekong.
The training was originally designed as a 5-day in-person training, but due to the current COVID-19 travel restrictions and local lockdowns, the training has commenced online, with the hope that in-person training might be possible soon.
Eligible districts of Phongsaly and Sekong provinces were the first to participate. Schools have been able to re-open in many districts of those provinces, so it is important that District Education Service Bureaus (DESB) teams received training and the grant funding they need to start school and cluster support as soon as possible.
This is the third year of Australia providing ESGs to target DESBs, along with technical support and electronic data collection tools (including an information management system and tablets). The grants support DESBs to provide regular pedagogical support to primary teachers via more school or cluster visits. At the same time, they use school and cluster visits as an opportunity to monitor curriculum implementation progress and collect real-time data for DESB and PESS management about successes and challenges in the district with the implementation of the new curriculum materials
The districts are encouraged to give greater priority to visiting low performing schools, often 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.
Compared to training provided in the past 2 years, the ESG training this year is more focused on building DESB capacity to provide pedagogical support to teachers, especially through developmental classroom observations and by facilitating learning circles at school cluster meetings.
The challenge of moving the training to an online format was taken as an opportunity to develop participants’ skills for using Zoom – an online meeting, training, and workshop application that allows for active participation via breakout rooms, chat functions, participant surveys and other tools.
Although many participants had experience of joining meetings online, the training covered more features of the Zoom platform. This enabled participants to be fully engaged in the training and prepared them well to facilitate their own online meetings and trainings in future.
Mr. Yeelar Chanthaphet, Deputy Head of Phongsaly Provincial Education and Sports Department, and Mr. Bounleua Keomanilay, Deputy Head of Sekong Provincial Education and Sports Department, respectively chair and co-chair, opened the training: “I would like to request all technical and teaching staff attending this training to be extremely focused and share their lessons learned with the relevant stakeholders to ensure the quality of the support and the efficient use of the ESG fund. Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the support from the Australia Government.”
Assoc. Prof Vong Deuan OSAY, Deputy Director General of DTE noted the value of including Zoom training into the overall workshop agenda. “Many of us are becoming expert at joining online meeting these days, but it is the next step to also know how to set up and facilitate training and use all of the available features of online meeting applications so that trainings, meetings and workshops are engaging and effective. I would like to see training like this extended to more participants in DTE so that everyone has the skills and confidence to operate online when we need to.”
An educational staff from Khoua DESB in Phongsaly Province said “We use WhatsApp for our meetings with school clusters in our district. We will now use Zoom as it allows us to share documents or presentations during the meeting.”
The training sessions for the remaining 4 target Provinces will be organised online or face to face according to the COVID-19 restrictions in October. Pedagogical advisors, provincial trainers and other district education staff are expected to start in-semester teacher support via school and cluster visits in October in districts where it is possible and online support where COVID-19 restrictions apply, in accordance with the Minister for Education and Sports 80% Curriculum Directive.