My mom works with a wonderful little man named Chy Souryavong. He was raised and in a country called Laos, which is located right above Thailand and Cambodia (which we learned about last blog post). When Chy heard that I had been writing blog posts about education around the world he got very excited and shared a lot of valuable information. Not only was he a student there, he was also a teacher.
My interview with him went as so:
What does the standard classroom look like?
The standard size of an ordinary classroom would be 30 to 40 students in a classroom. The front would have a blackboard that chalk could be written on it. The students’ tables would be a table and a bench and each table would have 2 or 3 students per table. Students would come in with their own supplies like books, pencils, notebooks etc. The students and teachers would go to school from 7:30 to 11:30. They would leave to go home to eat lunch and come back to school from 2:00 to 4:00.
Is education valued in the community/society?
No, there is no law to put you in school. That choice would be up to your parents. If you are raised in a poor family, you don’t go to school and you would stay home to help out the family. If you go to school and do poorly, your parents can take you out of school to help them with things in the family. On the other hand, if your family does well, more than likely, you would continue to a higher education. There isn’t that much choices of colleges and the amount of students to get chosen to get in are limited every year.
As a teacher were you treated well/paid well? Valued by the community?
You are highly valued in the community. You would always be a role model as someone that people could look up to in the community. As far as the money goes, they don’t get paid well at all. (Education in Laos, 2016)
This interview highlighted many interesting things. Throughout these blog posts there have been trends we can see. In wealthier countries we find that the quality of education, smaller classes, and adequate pay for teachers are largely under discussion. While in countries which experience extreme levels of poverty we see them fighting for simple access to education, properly trained teachers, and for education to be valued amongst their communities. Laos is in a special situation because it needs a little bit from each section.
From the interview with Chy, we see that similar to other wealthier countries Laos is similar in the way they have schools set up,yet they still struggle with things like adequate pay for teachers, ensuring that what the students are learning are truly important, and making sure classes are small enough that students get some individual learning time.
Chy also discusses how similar countries who are experiencing extreme poverty really struggle with students being able to attend school, either because they do not have a school close enough to home or they simply cannot afford to attend school/education is not the value families feel the kids need to learn at the time. They face the issue of having education systems which are improper simply because their teachers are not properly trained.
Laos faces a lot of very diverse and complicated issues. Is there any hope for them? Are they showing any progress like the other countries which we have looked at? The answer is YES! Since 2010 a lot of work has been done to rework schools in Laos. Primary school has an official entry age of six and a duration of five grades. Secondary school is divided into two cycles: lower secondary consists of grades 6 – 9, and upper secondary consists of grades 10 – 12. Basic education consists of primary and lower secondary education. In principle, primary school is free and compulsory. Students sit for the primary achievement examination at the end of grade 5, the lower secondary achievement examination at the end of grade 9, and the upper secondary achievement examination at the end of grade 12. The duration of the school year is 33 weeks (Laos, 2014). All of this means that education is being taken more seriously. In addition I found a stat which clearly shows how this improvement has really taken hold. In 2000, 76.7 percent of the teachers working in Laos were adequately trained. In 2010, the percentage rose to 95.6 (Walthouse, 2014).
The United States has also offered support in the way of financial support. They provide this support through programs like the Fulbright Program, United States education assistance includes support for more than 500 student and scholarly exchanges with Mekong ( Mekong includes Laos ) countries each year. This money is focused on basic education enrollment and expanding broadband Internet connectivity, particularly in rural communities. (Lower Mekong, n.d.) It also has acknowledged that sharing teaches practices between countries can be beneficial to both countries involved. They do this through the International Visitors Program. They plan is to bring professionals working in the areas of health, environment and education to the United States to share best practices and build connections. The State Department is also sponsoring scholarships within three of our LMI partner countries to help train leaders to better communicate in English, in order to work more effectively with their regional and international partners. (Lower Mekong, n.d.)
Of course many of these changes come along with the culture and views of the society which the education is taking place in. Through my research I found an article about a girl who grew up in the culture. From reading through a policy created by people who are actively interact directly with the schools in Laos. This policy described it’s current education focus to be as follows:
“The general goals of education in the twenty-first century are to educate Lao people to be good citizens and loyal to the country and to the people’s democratic regime; to strengthen the national education system in order for increasing student’s learning outcomes; and to train skilled labour force” (World Data, 2010).
As I continued to research I found an article from a Miss Asian American who grew up in the Laos culture. She stated that “For Laotians, change doesn’t come easy – so anything new – you don’t always trust it right away.” (Naidu-Ghelani, 2015) This way of thinking is understandable, however does create a barrier for education reform and improvements.
Through this blogging experience I have come to the conclusion that no matter where you go to school, how the system is set up, and how much funding a government provides the school system there will always be problems. Of course, through the blogs we have seen how some techniques are much more effective then other, but we also have to keep in mind that none of these techniques or policies are as simple as they appear.
Do you know of any ways to combat the fear of change amongst a community? Have you seen any successful education reforms in your home towns?
Laos. (2014, April). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.epdc.org/country/laos
Lower Mekong Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.state.gov/p/eap/mekong/
Naidu-Ghelani, R. (2015, May 15). Inside Laos: A US beauty queen’s quest for change – BBC News. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32476838
Walthouse, E. (2014, July 31). Evolution of Education in Laos – The Borgen Project. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.borgenmagazine.com/evolution-education-laos/
5th Education in Laos [E-mail interview]. (2016, April 13).
World Data on Education. (2010). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/sites/default/files/Lao_PDR.pdf