Bernhard Fuerst, a vocational teacher in metal production technology and First Chairman of the Bavarian Industrial Master Association got in contact with Angels for Children and the Lao-German Technical College on an educational journey to Laos with his Association in 2014. Impressed by the work carried out by both, he visited them again in November 2015, when Christian Engel and Prof. Martin were also both in Laos, and then decided to support the foundation and the vocational school himself. He has since committed to working as a voluntary vocational training advisor for the “Recruitment and Training Programme” of BHS Corrugated at the Lao-German Technical College. He started in February 2016 with a “Promotional Tour”, informing pupils of Ban Phang Heng middle school and their parents about the professional training offered at the LGTC. It has to be understood that sending children off to the city to receive vocational training is a new concept for a lot of Lao families.
To help set up “Technical English” classes for both teachers and students in this new Lao-German training programme as from September 2016, the beginning of the new academic year, the University of Education Karlsruhe will send two English graduates: Denise Burkhardt and Lena Wink. The three of us researched course books and handbooks in the – vast – field of Technical English and collated a comprehensive book list. The “Bookshop at Kronenplatz” let me order all of them (!) for inspection, and after a few weeks we were finally ready for Mr Fuerst’s visit, with a shortlist of 10 course books and handbooks and inspection copies of all of them on the table.
Our meeting took place in my office on 10 August 2016. We started with a skype conference with Mr Saythong Insarn, the Coordinator for Technical English at the LGTC. This was an exciting first contact for both sides, as it clarified our questions regarding the language level of the teachers, the exact number of teachers (34), the number of students in the two programme strands (50), and last, but not least, accommodation and transport facilities in Vientiane for our two volunteers. Anticipation rose, and things became even more exciting over lunch in the “Badische Weinstuben” when Mr Fuerst and his wife Baerbl told us about their experiences in Laos, China, and Japan.
After our little lunch break we discussed our book list: This took 3 hours. We learned about the expectations that a German advisor would have of the knowledge and competencies that students should have by the end of the 3-year training programme, and we detailed the added complexity of achieving these standards in English, a foreign language in which most of the learners will have had very little training, if any.
I suggested a three-tier build-up system for the four different groups of learners, i.e. the English teachers at Pre-Intermediate level, the non-English teachers at Beginner level, the non-English teachers at Elementary level, and the students. A general English course would be offered at Beginner and Elementary Level, a Technical English course at Level 1 and 2, with specialist courses in technology (electricity and metal) for advanced teachers (later), and the English translations of the standard German handbooks for reference and self-study (much later). This means a total order of 303 copies of 20 titles, for which the “Recruitment and Training Programme” of BHS Corrugated provides the funds. We will strive to guide the learners through this programme in the three years that we will have together at the College.
This challenging task would of course be infinitely easier if students came from middle school with a sound basis in English. This is why we will continue to help improve English lessons in Ban Phang Heng middle school at the same time. Eventually, the task should become less daunting.
The teachers at the College would be available for English training 2 hours every day, which is a good basis. This equals 30 teaching hours per week for us. The two volunteers teach 20 hours each, which includes visiting and co-teaching their tandem partners’ own English lessons for the development of didactics and methodology, which means we have a plan. Mr Saythong announced that an “English Speaking Club” would be most welcome, too, so motivation seems high and it all sounds quite promising. We are really looking forward to getting started – only 4 weeks to go now!
Text by I. Martin & L. Wink
Photos by I. Martin