Laos Has A Lot Going On

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

Lower Mekong Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

Naidu-Ghelani, R. (2015, May 15). Inside Laos: A US beauty queen’s quest for change – BBC News. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

Walthouse, E. (2014, July 31). Evolution of Education in Laos – The Borgen Project. Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

5th Education in Laos [E-mail interview]. (2016, April 13).

World Data on Education. (2010). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from

Cambodia Fights Back

In 2015 Michelle Obama took a trip to Cambodia and “…met with 10 girls who shared tales of rising early to feed their families and help with farming before heading off on long treks to school and studying late into the night.” ( Michelle Obama, 2015) I don’t know about you but I have a lot of respect for the girls who work this hard to go to school. My best friend from home is a first generation American. Her parents grew up in Cambodia and went to school there. Even though they only did some of their education in Cambodia they still were raised in the culture and have family connections there. Her parent came to the US in 1982. I have spent a large amount of time in their house over the past few years. It has been interesting to see their views on the world including education and see their knowledge of english.The father’s english is still pretty rough and works in a local factory, however the mother works in the passport center and has no problems communicating in english. In result to growing up around these people and noticing the differences I decided to research why these results may be.

In the beginning stages of research I came across an article which discussed the education reform which is taking place currently in Cambodia. “The ESP 2014-2018 has an increasing focus on the expansion of Early Childhood Education, expanding access to quality secondary and post-secondary education and Non-Formal Education, Technical and Vocational Education.” ( M.,2014)This plan was implemented a new minister of education entered the office in 2014. This man is named Hang Chuou Naron and the plan he implemented not only focused on the previously mentioned aspects but “He wants to end corruption in Cambodia’s schools.” ( Robbins, 2015) When I read that his goal was to crack down on corruption i had some doubt however when talking to my friends mom I learned that his plan was actually making a difference. Oum Sang (2016) said, “The education system in Cambodia is not the same as here. Everyone gets treated different, if you have money you’ll get better education. There’s still corruption going on over there but their government is working very hard to get rid off it for the last couple of years.’ This was encouraging to hear because corruption is something that is so relevant, yet so hard to address.
The ESP is a well laid out plan and made sure to focus on the children who are being damaged by the “…major constraints surrounding the education sector, including the issue of its governance, contribute to sustain a wide gap between stated education policies and actual practice, thus further diminishing working children’s chances to benefit from a school education.” ( Kim, 2011) In order to do achieve this the ESP laid out “seven key sub-sectors: Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Secondary and Technical Education, Higher Education, Non-Formal Education, Youth Development and Physical Education and Sport.” ( M., 2014)

In addition to corruption the new minister of education also pointed out that education has not been successful in the past because it is so deeply connected with Cambodia’s economic development. He identifies that there is a skills mismatch in Cambodia. “So we have investors coming in; they look for [a] skilled labor force – we don’t have enough. But at the supply side we have many graduates that cannot find jobs.” ( Robbins, 2015) The economic struggles of the country of course also affect the access and quality of children’s education. Luckily through the new minister of education and the ESP the areas of weak funding have been identified. In result, the “ teachers now earn an average of 550,000 riel a month. That is about $137 in American money. In May 2015, their minimum salary ​will increase to 650,000 riel, or about $162. The overall budget for education will increase to $440 million.” ( Robbins, 2015 ) You may be wondering (as I was) where such a large sum of money will come from. To answer this question I discovered that “The Asian Development Bank… is a new resource for Cambodia’s education reform. The bank is giving ninety million dollars to Cambodia over the next five years.” ( Robbins, 2015)

The ESP recognizes that education reform and this abundance of money can not make a successful change if not used wisely and with the corporation from all parties involved. In result they will focus on “implement the strengthening of the partnership between the Government and communities and parents, the development partners, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.” ( M, 2014)

This plan sounds like it will be a great improvement and from Oum Sang’s testimony I learned that she still has family in Cambodia, so she has an idea of what education is like currently. She said “I think they have a better education system these days.” The fact that she has seen a change is very encouraging. However it is no secret that coming back from a “73.6% literacy rate” (of the entire population), lots of corruption, and the government only spending 2.6% of their budget on education is no easy thing to come back from. ( Cambodia, n.d. )

Do you believe that Cambodia will be able to make a comeback? How would you go about fixing such complex issues?


Sweden’s Superior Education

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( This graph shows where Sweden is ranked in teacher pay.)

My current career goal is to become an elementary school teacher. I have been through quite a few education courses in the past few years. During these classes we discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the US school system. We also spent time looking at countries whose educations systems excel. During these discussions Sweden was often brought up. In result to this I decided to really delve into the differences between Sweden and the other countries we have looked at. The first vantage point I want to look at is basic demographics of the teachers. The second point will be from an economic standpoint, and the third will be from a social standpoint.

I was surprised to find that Sweden actually landed pretty close to the US when comparing teacher demographics. The Guardian (a newspaper in Britain) posted an amazing blog, which compared many aspects of schooling in different countries. The graphs showed that 66.5% of teachers are female, the average age of teachers is 46, students per classroom average at 2, and the average teacher has 16 years of teaching experience (Marsh, 2014). In result to these statistics being so similar to the US I was curious as to what was making the difference in Sweden’s school systems success.

In result to Sweden being an economically stable country and a country whose citizens ( the majority at least) do not need to worry about simply making ends meet, this allows them to realistically enforce school attendance laws and provide free education for everyone. In my preliminary research I found the Swedish school system website. Currently the very top of the page has the following quote.  ” From the age of six, every child has equal access to free education in Sweden. The Swedish school system is regulated through the Education Act, which ensures a safe and friendly environment for students. The act mandates nine years of school attendance for all children from the year they turn seven.”  This act and attendance policy does not explain the difference in schooling in quality can not be the explanation however because these are similar findings to America’s. Next, I decided to check out how the Swedish government uses it’s funds in relation to education.

          I thought maybe the difference would be found in the amount of funding the government is providing elementary education with in particular. I found that during 2011 Sweden’s annual expenditure for primary schools only $10295 (equivalent to USD) which is higher than the average expenditure for other countries ( Education at a Glance, 2014) . This could not be the solution because the same study found that the US spends even more at $10958 dollars per year (Education at a Glance, 2014). Finally, from the economic stand point I thought maybe it was the pay in which teachers received. I figured that maybe if teachers got paid more they would be more willing to put in the extra time to make excellent lesson plans. Sadly, for the Swedish teachers and my hypothesis, this was not the case. The median salary for teachers in Sweden is a whopping $31.60, this is dismal compared to what the poorly paid teachers in the US make which is $41.46 (Marsh, 2014). In result the hunt continued.

        Next, I decided to look at the social factors which affect the education systems and how students view their education. From the reading I did I found that Sweden’s education system gives the students a great deal of leeway deciding what direction they want their education to go in. This is realistic because of a few cultural factors, first the culture impress the need for education on it’s youth and the parents are very engaged/ child centered. I found that this culture of intrinsic values is implemented at a young age. A policy profile for education in Sweden discusses that “An important task of the preschool is to impart and establish respect for human rights and the fundamental democratic values on which Swedish society is based. Each and every person working in the preschool should promote respect for the intrinsic value of each person as well as respect for the environment.” (Taguma, 2013).

        This is not all good though, found one reading which said that many Scandinavia students are being raised not understand that the world isn’t all about them. In some cultures this trait may even be desired, however “The Swedish minister of education is calling for more discipline in schools.“ (Hansegard, 2014) Because the“Swedish-school results have been falling in international comparisons and Swedes look enviously at countries like Finland, which has more discipline in schools and where teachers retain an old-school authority they have lost in Sweden.” (Hansegard, 2014).  Finally, I came to the realization that the Swedish school system isn’t actually superior. They are by no means one of the worst systems, however they are not the superpower I originally thought. Looks like my hunt for a superior education system continues.

Have you heard of techniques that worked really well in other countries? What were they? What about your education system did you find worked really well?



Hansegard, J. (2014, February 10). Is Sweden Raising a Generation of Brats? Retrieved April 02, 2016, from

Education at a Glance 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, from States-EAG2014-Country-Note.pdf  

Education in Sweden. (2015). Retrieved April 02, 2016, from

Marsh, S. (2014, September 05). How the job of a teacher compares around the world. Retrieved April 02, 2016, from  

Taguma, M., Litjens, I., & Makowiecki, K. (2013, May 02). Quality Matters in Early Childhood Education and Care. Retrieved April 01, 2016, from policy profile – published 05-02-2013.pdf



Dominican Republic Fights Back

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Recently my roommate went on a trip called CAST, which is a service trip the athletes of Clark University go on. This trip takes place in the Dominican Republic. While there she noticed that the children were often running around in their school uniforms, yelling and having a blast, but never saw them actually going to school. This made me wonder what the percentages of kids from different income brackets go to school. At what age they are allowed to enter school and when do most leave?

An article that is based in Germany gave a very insightful look into the aspects which make getting a quality education difficult for the children in the DR. “…the Dominican Republic struggles with overcrowded classrooms in shoddy facilities. There’s a high dropout rate, an outdated curriculum, overage students who fail classes and have to repeat grades, among other problems. But perhaps the most worrying issue is poorly trained teachers.” (Manning, 2014)

The article goes on to discuss the domino effect of low funding. With low pay, this creates a lack of teachers. In addition to this they face a poor curriculum and a culture which does not foster education. Principal Felix Sanchez was quoted saying “I would say it’s something about our country’s culture. A lot of the time, families don’t understand the importance of their children’s educational responsibilities.” (Manning, 2014) In result to this the article also threw out the reality that “Across the country, about 40 percent of boys and girls leave school before eighth grade. Even those who get through high school and complete 12 years of school start college at a sixth-grade reading level, according to a Dominican university study.” (Manning, 2014)

After reading about the abundance of issues this article brought up I was amazed to see the recorded literacy rates the education policy and data center published. These statistics compare low to middle income countries to each other. “…Dominican Republic ranks at the 33 percentile in access and at the 57 percentile in learning.” Figure 9 compares youth and adult literacy rates and shows that, in Dominican Republic, the literacy rate is 97% among the youth population; this is lower than the average youth literacy rate in other upper middle income countries. ( EPDC, 2014) I was originally very impressed by the literacy rate of 97% and thought I would look into it a bit further. I am not sure that I got a clear answer. I believe that the data and scale which resulted in such high literacy rates must have been skewed. I have come to this conclusion from what my roommate said she observed during her time in the DR and a quote from an american peace corps worker named Hannah Barrentine. She said “The education system in the Dominican is very poor,” she said. “Many people don’t know how to read, a lot of parents and students are illiterate, so they don’t know how to read at all. My primary assignment is to be a resource for them.”  (Villa, 2016)

Even though the current conditions are not encouraging people have not given up on them.  “Barrentine will be working in the education sector, where the goal is to improve primary literacy by working with teachers, students, and the community. She will “help teachers implement effective strategies for classroom management, literacy instruction, resources development and student-centered learning.” (Villa, 2016) In addition to this the Dominican government and other international organizations are producing policies which they hope will make a difference in the lives of these kids lives.

Recently the DR education policies have focused on gender equality, quality and access to schools. (Access meaning money wise, location and family structure wise). “[The] Dominican Republic was one of the countries that first subscribed the commitments of Jomtien and prepared a national plan of implementation. The Plan, well known as Plan Decenal…” (Gajardo, 2007) This plan set up six international commitments which the DR quickly (in comparison to other similar companies) took on. “The government will build 28,000 new classrooms by 2016, but right now there aren’t enough teachers for the classrooms they already have. Student-teacher ratios in schools with more than 500 students are 78:1 – this accounts for 68 percent of total enrollment for public schools.” (Manning, 2014)

Sadly, a running trend for developing countries is that no matter how great the policies are and how positive the intentions of the government are, laws simply do not work. The people who are really struggling are usually so removed from the government and their policies that the effect does not truly reach the areas which are most affected. Since the laws don’t work, do you think projects that groups like the Peace Corps do have the capability of making a real change? If not, have you ever heard of something that has made a real difference?




Dominican Republic. (2014). Education Policy and Data Center.


Gajardo, M. (2007). Dominican Republic. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


Manning, K. (2014, December 04). Dominican Republic revamps failing education system | Globalization | DW.COM | 12.05.2014. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from
Villa, J. (2016, February 26). An international volunteer and educator. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from

Education: What Does it Look Like in Each Stage of Development?

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I was raised in the United States. I have a heart for children and specifically a heart for watching them blossom from learning new things. I believe there is nothing like meeting a student on the first day of school. Seeing their joy at all the new friends and new toys, or maybe their terror at all the new friends and new toys. Either way as the teacher you get the opportunity to see the children get excited when they learn new skills and grow into themselves over the year. Somewhere deep down you know that a little bit of this growth was the result of your work. Now, because I have this passion and was raised in the US, I believe education is a great thing that everyone should have access to. However, I am also not ignorant. I realize that not all countries view how, when, and why education should be provided. This is why I want to explore four big questions. These questions include: What content does education focus on in different cultures? What age does schooling start and end at in each country? Who is teaching the students? Is education seen as a positive thing by society?

Today I want to focus on the United States. If you said, “Sami, are you well educated about education practices in the US?” Prior to doing research, I would have said “yes.” Boy, was I wrong. To each of the questions I proposed, I had a pretty good idea as to what the answer would be. However, I had no idea as to why things were the way they were or how skewed the statistics are. A good example of this was seen when I began researching the question “Who is teaching our students?” I knew that the research would say white females. What I did not know, however was to what extent this was true. Finding the demographic data from more recent years was surprisingly difficult. I was able to find data from around 2000. A book called Studying Teacher Education (2005) said that of the teachers surveyed, “74.5% of public school teachers were female” “…public school teachers were predominantly white…(84%). Of the remaining proportion, 7.8% were African American, 5.7% Hispanic, 1.6% Asian American, and .8% Native American.” When researching I was unable to find national data, but I was able to find data in different areas of the US which indicated that slowly the teacher profession was beginning to be a little more diverse. At this point in time this progression has not caught up to the students’ diversity.

Next, I decided to look into what age education starts at for most US students. The answer to this question can be found through the Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852. Since then it has been modified a few times to change the amount of time each student needs to put in each year, what age they must begin school, and when they are allowed to withdraw. The act began in one state and took a few years, but eventually all US states put into play a similar policy. The attendance policy in Orange County is a very clear example of this act.It an be found in their attendance policy and procedures manual. It clearly states that “All youths between the age of 6 and under 18 (under 16) per Florida statute 1003.21 must attend school. Students aged 16 and 17 are not required to attend school when and if a formal declaration of intent to terminate school enrollment form and doe exit survey is on file with the district, and must be completed by Parent/Guardian and Student. Students 18 and over are not required to attend school.” Many other students begin school as early as two and a half, but they are not legally required until around age six (depending on the district).

Next, it’s time to answer the question of “How does the US view education?” As I previously stated I am from America and grew up in its society. Each area of the US has a different society which may have different views on schooling. With that aside I can assure you that the nation as a whole believes that education is incredibly important. There by no means did I find articles titled “America Loves Education and Thinks it is Great!”, but because there were an abundance of articles, papers, theories, and videos on how to make the education system better. The nation as a whole would probably agree that the education system is not incredible. However, if we didn’t believe it was important there wouldn’t be so much passion behind making it better. Examples of these articles are The New York Times article titled “How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools. And How Not To.” or Forbes’ article titled “How To Fix Education In America“.

This leaves us with the final question: “What content does the US value in their schools?” While researching about how education is done in other areas of the world I learned there are different views on what should be taught in school and what should be taught at home. Growing up in the US I can say that the whole nation does not agree unanimously. I read an interview by the superintendents of the Worcester, MA public school system in the Worcester Mag Online (2016) on what they would like to focus on with the implementation of “ Common Core”. Maureen Binienda was quoted describing how she would implement new things allowing the school to “Focus on engaging students and rigorous curriculum.” Another superintendent, Dr. Kerry Mulcahy, stated “I think our number one focus should be to prepare our young people to get them ready for the world.” When trying to speak for what a nation the size of the US as a whole believes, it is hard. Overall, I think it depends on the needs of the students and very dependent on what the students family life is like.

What do you think about the US education system? Should kids start going to school out of the womb? What about at age 12? Should schools be teaching kids morals?


Cochran-Smith, Marilyn, and Kenneth M. Zeichner. “3.” Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. N. pag. Print.

Kirp, David L. “How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools. And How Not To.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

“Live Blog: Worcester Superintendent Interviews – Worcester Mag.”Worcester Mag. N.p., 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

Orange County Public Schools . Attendance Policy and Procedures. 2105. Print.. Attendance Policy and Procedures. 2105. Print.