The TV, radio and newspaper teams from the Information Media Center (IMC) of the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR (MoES), with support from Australia through the BEQUAL program, has just released the fifth episode of the Role Model docuseries. It relates the story of an inspiring public-school teacher from a remote village in Phongsaly Province. Ajan Souksavanh Laolee comes from the Phunoi ethnic group and teaches young Akha students who are not yet fully competent in Lao Language. In the documentary she explains her strategies to ensure her students can participate meaningfully in all learning activities and how she collaborates with and supports other teachers and liaises with the community and the parents.
Lao PDR is a very diverse country with four main ethnolinguistic groups incorporating other 50 languages. The mother tongue of almost 40% of people in the Lao country is a language other than Lao. Many young students will thus start school without speaking good Lao, which is the language of instruction.
Ajan Souksavanh explains “The school is in a remote area and the Akha culture is very different from mine as I am Phunoi. The school is very far from my village; I can come back only during the weekend. Teaching at a school full of ethnic students could be challenging. At home, my students speak Akha. And when they watch TV, it is in other languages such as Thai. This is why their Lao is not good when they start school.”
Ajan Souksavanh is passionate and really takes the duty of teaching children at heart “We can’t give up once we make the decision to become a teacher. I love the children. I think teaching children is extremely valuable and I feel good to teach them as if they were my own kids.”
She found ways to adapt her teaching to ensure all students understand, participate and progress. She explains “I use body language and will explain three to four times the activity. First, I explain in Akha and then in Lao language.” She also shares how she teaches Lao Language to her students: “I prepare sets of pictures that will help students learning Lao Language. I make the cards myself, inspired by the textbooks or research in internet. I will also use techniques from the new Lao Language curriculum and some from the Spoken Lao Program. They are very helpful. I especially like the technique “listen and practice”. I also use the techniques demonstrated in the teacher development videos to practice and prepare my lessons”.
Ajan Souksavanh values support from peers and other pedagogical staff to answer the challenges teachers may face. “The District Education and Sports Bureau from Phongsaly makes regular visit and arranges meetings twice a semester for all teachers to share lessons learned. If a teacher faces any difficulty, we can contact the district. There is a WhatsApp group to ask questions and the master or provincial trainers will give us advice. I myself supports other teachers in my school, especially when they need to communicate with their Akha students. I learned the language myself.”
Ajan Souksavanh believes that support from the community and parents is key. She shares her secret to fit in the community: “If the parents don’t trust the teacher, they don’t send their children to the school. I meet regularly with the parents and community to explain the importance of education and that they should send the children to school every day. But first, I had to build their trust. So, I used my experience from teaching to learn about the culture and the language and get accepted in the village. I applied my own teaching techniques to learn the Akha language; I showed pictures to the students, and they gave me the words in Akha; then I repeat and remember. It was not very difficult to adapt myself to the new school as I already had this experience in the past. And I am very proud I could convince the parents to send their children to school!”.
She is also a Gender Role Model “I am also happy to share gender messages with the community. It is important to help mentalities evolved; for example, in the past, the daughter-in-law was not allowed to have dinner with the family; and the women had to work very hard a lot; I am glad that society is changing in a better way.”
Passionate and inclusive teachers such as Ajan Souksavanh can make a huge impact on the quality of education and the future of the new generation. They are inspiring models for other teachers “I want to pass this message to other teachers who are teaching students from ethnic groups. Please, do not give up on the challenges of the language and the environment. Please be strong. Help each other and face this challenge, this is for better learning outcomes for the students who are the future of our country.”
The story of Ajan Souksavanh can be watched on the ວິດີໂອສໍາລັບການພັດທະນາຄູ Teacher Development Videos You Tube Channel and on Education and Sports TV on Lao Sat Channel 8. The Role Model docuseries project is fully supported by the Australian Government through the BEQUAL program. The objective of these interview-based communications is to promote and encourage the replication of best practices to boost the implementation of the new curriculum and to share innovative ideas addressing teaching and learning challenges.
Watch the video here.