Closing summit and information session on “Teaching English in Laos” at the University of Education Karlsruhe

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After nearly three months’ of pioneering work the project leaders, board members of the Angel foundation, university administration, and our first five volunteers of the pilot teaching project met up on 27 January 2016 for a full-day conference in Karlsruhe to look back and also forward: What happened since October and what is going to happen in the future? How should the program be shaped or reshaped, in which aspects can it be improved, which ones are just right as they are? What were good and bad experiences for the different players, with whom should we cooperate with in the future? All cards were put on the table.

Since our time schedule was very tight, statements had been formulated beforehand for a lot of the questions. They were then presented and discussed so that decisions could be made.

The first and main objective of the pilot project, i.e. the instalment of a continuous program to improve English language skills and teaching methodology in Laos – the reason why chairman of Angels-for-Children Christian Engel and his Laos delegation came to visit Prof. Isabel Martin in July 2015 in the first place – was already achieved: Prof. Martin submitted the project for inclusion in the new teaching degrees (new Examination Regulation 2015), successfully ran it past various university committees and is currently waiting for the final administrative seal of approval.

This means that from autumn 2017 on, students studying under the new 2015 regulations can choose “Teaching English in Laos” as an official internship for an entire semester – the so-called “profile window”, in which students broaden their focus by engaging in a professional working area which is related to, but not congruous with their chosen fields of study. For this, they earn 15 to 30 credit points. By making this an official part of the university degree program, we secure the long-term continuation of the project and contribute to the ongoing internationalization of our university.

Now it was up to the volunteers to shape the details of the program further. They related their experiences in trying to achieve the goal of teaching English in a communicative way and to strengthen the communicative skills of both teachers and students. They corroborated the idea that the schools should not be seen as singular components, but as an educational center subjected to a holistic reform. This approach had been suggested by Prof. Martin in the very beginning, so now the next step would be to make this plan plausible and transparent to our Laotian cooperation partners so that communication between the schools, school administration, and our project team and leaders could run more smoothly henceforward, and to ensure that both the exchange of information and knowledge and the community of the teachers of the different schools were our new shared goal. Everybody involved needs to know, understand and support this, to avoid, as Christian Engel put it in economic terms, the dead-end “silo effect”.

During the lunch break the project was presented to the Chancellor of the University, Mrs Ursula Woell, who showed great interest in our work and promised her support. We agreed to work out an action plan for the next steps in the short-, mid-, and long-term future, for which we will have a follow-up meeting with the Chancellor at the beginning of April.

Thanks to the delicious catering, we had a nice (and, needless to say, short) lunch break, after which we continued our summit and collected more suggestions for improvement concerning, e.g., additional material to be purchased, future tasks for volunteers and their preparation in Germany. Also, the volunteers, project coordinator, and Angel staff in Laos are to have regular meetings in the future, in which information is shared and the planned measures are continuously reassessed. It also was agreed that six volunteers would be needed to fit the specific current needs.

Last, but not least, an opportunity for studying the Lao language should be an integral component for the future German volunteers. Communication works both ways.

After a long day of intense exchange and debate, we held a press conference at 5 o’clock, which seemed to fascinate our guests, and the same can be said of the information session we held at 6 p.m. for students. Our volunteers spoke about their experiences for about an hour, showed some photos and a film that they had made, and the room was full with 30 spell-bound students, of whom a dozen or so lingered for another hour to ask more questions. Some of them already submitted applications for the next round of “Teaching English in Laos”, and by the sound of it there are more applications to come.

Text by T. Mayer & I. Martin

Photos by K. Buttgereit & J. Zeck

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