Globalization drives the “Recruitment and Training Programme” (“RTP”) of BHS Corrugated and the Lao-German Technical College (“LGTC”). BHS is a machinery-producing company and the world market leader in the corrugated board industry. Its headquarters are in Weiherhammer, Germany (near the Czech border), and it has had close ties with Laos and the LGTC for a long time.
I was first invited to BHS Corrugated on 15 July 2016 for a guided tour, during which I was also able to acquaint myself with the “UEBZO” (Überbetriebliches Ausbildungszentrum in Ostbayern), a renowned vocational education institution which now also serves as a model to the new training programme at the College in Vientiane.
The new training programme emerged from the cooperation between BHS Corrugated and the LGTC, which was signed and sealed in a “Memorandum of Understanding” in an official ceremony in Vientiane on 15 December 2015 and is funded by German aid. The German Ambassador, His Excellency Michael Grau, chaired the ceremony.
The programme connects the AfC Lower Secondary School in Ban Phang Heng and the LGTC in Vientiane: The more ambitious graduates of the AfC school are looking for a placement in vocational training (as an alternative to helping their family in the rice field or food stall), and the College is looking for able students. The country, in turn, needs a trained work force asap, which means apprentices to professions in industrial electricity and machinery, for example, for later hire as service technicians in the Asia Pacific region, and, of course, to attract foreign businesses into the country for a boost to the economy and the creation of new jobs.
Excursus: Due to the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2016, a common Free Trade Agreement of all ten ASEAN Nations, Laos has to raise standards in education, economics affairs, trade – and in English, the common language used in this Community. Globalization and internationalization challenge many ASEAN countries, amongst them Laos, which only “surfaced” in the 1990s following the fall of the iron curtain in Europe, with the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union. French had been the main language in administration and education until the Communist coup in 1975, and then Russian until the beginning of the 1990s.
The Recruitment and Training Programme’s 3-year courses started in September 2016, with a first cohort of 44 students who graduated from the AfC lower secondary school this summer. The enrolment procedure itself involved administrative matters none of the students or their parents had ever been faced with before (such as bank accounts or insurances), so it took a week or two until everything was in place and could officially begin.
After a promotional tour in February, which had informed the pupils and their parents about this new career option, the interviews were conducted in August. 44 places of the available 50 were filled.
So what does all this have to do with teaching English in Laos?
Let me reverse the question: What does it not have to do with teaching English in Laos?
The question why vocational colleges were not automatically included in the professionalization of English studies in Laos was one of the first puzzles that presented themselves to me when I first visited the country in October last year. I wondered how any project could work in which donors/operators and recipients/actors had little or no shared language, or rather, which did not include English language work in the project.
Our two pioneer graduates Denise Burkhardt and Lena Wink (Team III) have just moved into an apartment on the LGTC campus, and we will now
- provide systematic English training for English teachers and vocational trainers,
- mentor and co-teach the English lessons of the Lao tandem-teachers,
- help develop the curriculum and teaching materials, and
- evaluate the results.
The LGTC is the first partner-College in our programme, but invitations from other Colleges are trickling in, and we shall visit them later this year.
Text by I. Martin
Photos by I.Martin & J.Zeck