In the rural village of Namphead village in Lao PDR’s Vientiane province, Grade 5 student Latsamee Anousone is seeing the world through new eyes since she started learning science. Against the odds, which reveal that one-quarter of 5th-grade students in Lao PDR are unable to read three words of Lao correctly or add single-digit numbers correctly, she is thriving academically.
Latsamee attends Action Education’s mobile library activities which are extracurricular activities run by a community volunteer using games, digital tablets, picture books and more in schools to give students a hands-on learning experience. For 11-year-old Latsamee she’s had opportunities to read books and develop a passion and habt for reading. “I like reading because it is the only way to improve my vocabulary and to expand my imagination,” she says.
Since January 2022, these volunteers are now teaching science in Lao PDR which aligns with the country’s STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education development which is being integrated in the school curriculum in order to improve Lao’s education system.
While science may be now part of the new curriculum, what is taught in practice is limited due to a lack of materials and human resources. In 2018, a World Bank study found only 2.4% of Grade 4 teachers were proficient in their grade’s levels of maths and Lao skills, meaning almost all would fail to score over 80% on an exam given to their students.
In addition to teachers’ low proficiency levels, many parents in rural areas, such as Latsamee’s, also have little to no literacy skills. According to Mr. Alounsavath Thongphanith, Program Manager of Action Education Laos, continuous training for mobile library volunteers is ongoing to ensure extracurricular activities are delivered to a high standard.
“Training is given in order to ensure volunteers can use different methodologies to effectively facilitate the activities in the ways that children are joyful, confident and participate in a safe manner, explains Alounsavath.
“Many of Action Education’s new mobile library volunteers are teaching graduates, ready to learn play-based pedagogies that they weren’t taught in their training colleges. “Through this program, the teachers we work with become more innovative and creative in helping their students to acquire new ways of thinking and learning,” explains Alounsavath.
Teaching science in Lao PDR
Since January 2022, scientific sessions have been introduced into mobile library activities, offering students experimental and hands-on practice to understand better the information contained in their textbooks. The extracurricular activities are relevant to the local context and safe for the children and include experiments such as mixing colours, an oxygen and burning process, the distinction of three types of water, heat absorption, and the role of trees in our daily lives, and much more.
“When I practised the oxygen and burning process with my friends, we were so excited and a bit nervous as it was the first experiment in our life,” says Latsamee. “But then, we felt surprised when it was done properly because the practices and results made us understand clearly and quickly what the teachers had explained. It’s so fun and interesting”
At home, Latsame likes to share stories with her mum about what’s she learning. Her favourite experiment is the mixing colour activity because she can easily make her favourite colour pink by mixing red and white together.
Focus on the future
Alounsavath hopes that Action Education’s activities will allow the children to progress further in school. “We are sure that the students will gain more interest in new technologies and sciences and will eventually advance from these preliminary principles to a higher level in the future”, he says.
For Latsame, remains her passion. “Reading is still my favourite activity as it helps me to realize my dream to become a good literature teacher in the future.”