For International Mother Language Day, Action Education went to meet Phiab, a brilliant schoolgirl. In the village of Phonmouang, almost everyone is of Khmu ethnicity, except Phiab and her family. Phiab's family is Hmong and had moved from the forest to Phonmouang village in search of a better life. Her parents enrolled Phiab in kindergarten at the age of five, where she was the only Hmong student in her class. All her classmates were Khmu and spoke the Khmu language. The teacher was Lao and the curriculum was taught in Lao. But Phiab only spoke Hmong.
Multiple languages: barriers and challenges to learning in Laos
Public education in Laos is divided into 5 years of primary school, 3 years of junior high school and 3 years of high school. With over 200 mother tongues The language barrier in national pre-school education is a challenge to children's progress. Thepre-school activities are an opportunity for young children to be exposed to the Lao language and to develop skills that contribute to their success when they enter primary school. Without pre-school classes, many students struggle to progress to primary school. The village of Phonmouang did not have a classroom to offer pre-school classes until Action Education (formerly Aide et Action) in Laos stepped in to help build one and recruited a teacher. The school now offers apre-school activities to five-year-olds in the village, preparing them for primary school. Phiab is one of the students who have benefited from the pre-school activities. The first day her father took her to school, she had never heard a word of Khmu or Lao. Her teacher testifies:
"She was very quiet and shy, and she didn't express herself like the other children. Phiab could only respond to her teachers and classmates in Hmong, and others could not understand her." Ms. Kital, Phiab's teacher
Mother-tongue education: An excellent lever for children's academic development!
Despite Phiab's difficulties with integration, her parents continued to encourage her to go to school. Every day she went to school with her classmates and gradually made friends. At first she spoke through her body language (sign language), then she started to learn Khmu and Lao. "Through activities such as songs and games, Phiab learned Lao without knowing it," says her teacher. Ms. Kitar also participated in the teacher training organised by Action Education in Laos, which focused on important skills on how to include different ethnic groups in the classroom environment. This training helped her to recognise Phiab's needs. Today, Phiab is doing well in school and can communicate with his teachers and classmates in Khmu and Lao.
As Phiab prepares to enter first grade in the fall, his future looks bright. "The pre-school class provided by Action Education allows Phiab to learn Lao and prepare for Grade 1. Now that she is ready, I hope she will succeed next year," said Ms. Kitar. Phiab is looking forward to Grade 1. "She loved going to school and being with her friends," said Phiab's father. "At school she speaks Khmu and Lao, and at home she speaks Hmong with our family. She speaks three languages!For more information
Khmu, Lao and Hmong are three languages spoken in Laos by ethnic groups with the same name.