Lao university delegation visits University of Education Karlsruhe – the Lao perspective

All Posts, Diplomatic relations, Global English, Partnership, Savannakhet University (SKU)

Our goals after the visit to universities and laboratory equipment supplier companies in Germany – and our new cooperation with the University of Education Karlsruhe

This is our leaders’ team at Savannaket University:1


During September 2017, a mission of visit led by Lao vice-minister of education and sport (MoES) was paid to two manufacturers (PHYWE and LUCAS NULLE) of laboratories equipment, and we also visited three universities (Göttingen University, University of Applied Science Köln, and University of Education Karlsruhe) and a center for laboratory training service, called XL International Science Campus.


29.9.2017: Mark Metzbaur (PHYWE), Laura Kringe (Team I), Julia Friedl (International Office PH KA), Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin (English Department PH KA), Assoc. Prof. Bounpong Keorodom (President of SKU), Ursula Wöll ([then] Chancellor PH KA), Assoc. Prof. Sitha Khemmarath (Vice-President of SKU), Prof. Dr. Annette Worth (Research Vice-President PH KA), Vixay Vankham (Academic Affairs Director of Division Faculty of Engineering of National University of Laos), Worapanya Pathomkasikul (Advisor from Thailand to Lao Universities)
The team was composed of five people: the vice-minister (Assoc.Prof.Dr Kongsy SENGMANY), the president (Assoc.Prof.Dr Bounpong KEORODOM) and vice-president for research and postgraduates (Assoc.Prof.Dr Sitha KHEMMARATH) from Savannakhet University (SKU), the president of Lao Association for Private Education (Dr.Khamsene SISAVONG) and director of academics to faculty of engineering (Assoc.Prof. Vixai VANHKHAM, National University of Laos). We had also in our team of the visit a representative from the local dealer of PHYWE who assisted organizing the visit (Mr Worapanya PATHUMKASIKUL).

The main objectives of the visit were to learn how lab equipment are used to teach practical courses and how the companies who make lab equipment work with educational institution in order to help developing capacity as well as skills to students of different level of education (primary, secondary and tertiary). According to many source and research findings, Laos’s education is always criticized to be of old fashion; spoon fed-teaching, too much teacher-centered; lack of practical skills, too much theoretical teaching. Even though, the MoES’s strategy was reiterated in high ranking leaders of education that education has to be of three characters: (1) national, (2) scientific (International) and (3) societal. This last means the development of practical skills to learners in orders to serve the society or more relevant to the need of society in present context.


Back ground and issues:

Since recent years, Lao government has been making big effort to push educational institutions of all levels to develop their capacity in order for the national education be able endowed with this three-characters. This will imply the competency of teachers to teach practical classes, availability of facilities of laboratories and the way by which people who teach and equipment are managed in such way that learning experience can be obtained by learners. This last point is observes to be lacking from the perception of many education managers.

So it has been observed that people think of possessing factors (qualified teachers and materials) but few mentioned how the factors are applied so that learning experience can be obtained by students. Due to this mis-conceptual perceptions of academic institutions, there are qualified teachers lab equipment available but very few even no practical teaching (both in the form of tutorial classes ad laboratory classes) are organized.

To these issues and questions, attempts were made to obtain responses during this visit.

Observations and what can be learned.

Higher Education Leaders’ Mind Sets: during the visit, in Germany people are precious resource as said Prof.Dr.Isabel Martin, one of the  leaders for higher education institutions we visited “in absence of oil […] but we do have people”. They really consider people are precious natural resource. To make the resource available and ready for employment, since primary education, students are trained to develop their creative idea.

In order to train people for this purpose, laboratories services are established. Laboratory is science entity, equipment and materials are for analytical activities in the field of chemistry, physics and biology. Training can be arranged for university and high school students. By doing so students become very qualitied scientists by the time when they graduate from universities.

Partnership between Laboratory Equipment Suppliers and Universities: companies as manufactures and suppliers make always big effort to develop their equipment for laboratories in order to keep pace with research and development in the university. The companies incorporate pedagogical method of courses management, testing students if they are ready for conduction laboratory activities, the use of lab equipment is also computerized This guides students to do lab experiment by themselves. The equipment itself become more simple and light in weight.

Teaching Method Development: universities themselves elaborate with no cease the teaching method, as consequence more students – centered, less and less face-to-face teaching hours, thanks to the assistance of more sophisticated didactic equipment. Students became more self-reliance of learning that has been proved more efficient learning method.

Intervention in General Education Development: is the use of research findings to intervene in the whole process of learners’ competency development. Students from general education can have access to make use of the well-equipped laboratory, as example learned from Karlsruhe University of Education, laboratory of physics try to cultivate innovative thinking and invention to general education students, and Lending Library didactic English teaching material and the language lab is available to English students by Prof. Martin. We visited many other departments at PH Karlsruhe and saw maths lab, nutrition science kitchen, sewing ironing fabrics room, sports hall, IT/Media production, technics room metal wood children’s room, University Library. By the time students enter in university, they have quite strong background for different fields of study.

Working Performance: is the working culture, the delegates are so impressed and admired of the way German people work; so dedicated to work, energetic, everyone endowed with spirit of high responsibility for the work assigned to them. We have learned from the history of civilization Germany is one of the most developed culture of working in the world.

We, Laotians are always said to be easy going way of life. We wonder why German is more dedicated working culture than any other nations in the world; what are the driving forces; whether there are the mechanism or policy, of course, not the in-born characters. No wonder Germany is one of the most industrialized countries and ranked very high in term of HDI (Human Development Index), among the top ten of the most developed nations.

Contrarily, Lao PDR is now ranked in 138th position in this regards. Working performance is, of course not the only factor making Laos ranked in this position. The today way of life, in this the case, the working culture, is the product of the long historical events that Laos has undergone. It seems that the two countries are on the two extremes. On one, the industrialized country like Germany has its firm willingness to help improving the effectiveness of the developing country.2 While on another extreme, Laos is attempting to enhance its working performance. And the developing countries are quite diverse in term of comparative advantages. The technologies that can help tap the resources in the developing countries are, fortunately available in the developed countries. When these two countries get together they will be brought into win-win situation. As result, more energetic and dedicated working will be, step by step cultivated to Lao people to be more effective.


Actions as responses to lesson learned

The immediate actions right after the visit to the companies and universities in Germany is to convene SKU’s leaders during the monthly meeting to improve teaching method in order to strengthen teaching capacity of English, firstly for international program (In-English taught program in the field of Rural Economic and business Extension), secondly for students from English as major of applied foreign language, and finally for English a course of foreign language for students from others fields of study at bachelor level.

There are 36 programs for the whole university of Savannakhet. In addition, two master programs include also English as their general and compulsory course. The students ‘knowledge of English are so diverse. Sometime young and limited experienced teachers find teaching so hard to handle.

It has been observed by German expert of linguistics and pedagogy that while the teaching method of English in SKU is ineffective, Western text books are irrelevant to Lao context,3 while Lao textbooks make even ineffective illustration, rendering students harder to learn the languages, said Professor Isabel. She found after visiting many institutions of education in Laos that the “Western teaching approaches are not suited to your context and we need to customize our offers – and most importantly of all, we need to devise a tandem-system for developing a culture-sensitive, but modern style together.” This is to address the issues that had been raised by leaders of SKU during the visit paid by the delegates to PH Karlsruhe. Text book, and teaching approach is one thing while there are many other issues like teachers themselves who were not trained for teaching applied language of English and students who feel big need for their future carrier. But acquiring knowledge of English for most of students is felt like something hardly possible to reach, due to an in appropriate teaching method.

During the meeting of SKU’s leaders, It has been agreed to take immediate action of having an experienced English teacher from Karlsruhe University of Education who are so cooperative and ready to start a cooperation with SKU, looking for an appropriate candidate who can work as a volunteer teacher of English. There were a number of interested young experienced teachers, said Professor Isabel, out of which David, a young energetic, and ready to undertake this challenging job.

It has been now for more than two months this action taking place. Since September 2018, David has been working in SKU; Training young teachers of English for students in field of study other than English major, working in tandem with teachers for students from English major, and also for student from international program, tea club that create environment inducing to English speaking are currently main activities led by the volunteer tandem teacher from Karlsruhe. The teaching focus on content of subject matter, pedagogical methods of teaching skills in English proficiency as well as the way how teachers of English from SKU get prepared and ready to teach classes with high responsibility in order to achieve learning inspiration, motivation and eventually effective learning for majority of students. This is way of working that leaders and teachers of SKU appreciate very much being able to share with German expert and volunteers.

The second action is related to the design of classroom ad laboratories for the object of being able to implement the approved curricula, according to the national curriculum standard.

There have to be enough classrooms and laboratories in term of number and area and teaching staff who will handle lecture, laboratories and tutorial teachings.

SKU is now in the process of expansion; establishing new campus, under financial support of Lao Government and ADB (Asian Development Bank). The learned lesson can be applicable for this purpose.

To correctly implement curricula of SKU’s study programs, following the requirement of the actual and first National Curriculum Standard, there have been the issues of implementing curricula under constrains; lacking facilities and qualified teachers, due to inappropriate design of facilities, especially class room for different methods of teaching.4 Visiting laboratory facilities and their applications in university teaching program helps enlightening the perception of decision makers from education institutions from Laos. While close cooperation with PH Karlsruhe, Gottingen University and others European partners institutions will help us find the way how our own Lao curriculum could be implemented with well trained teachers to be qualified to deliver courses, well-designed facilities (class room and laboratory equipment).  By doing so, the strategy of improving quality of education to approach international and global standard can gradually be reached.



Mission of visit payed by high ranking officials from Lao Ministry of Education and Sports to the companies of manufacturing laboratory equipment and to some universities in Germany obtain the following lesson that can be learned and put in actions. Lessons learned by the mission are;

  • Germans’ perception about people who are considered as precious resources more than any other ones. That is why that efforts must be made by educational institution to develop human resource.
  • Laboratory equipment manufacturers keep pace on research and development with university in order to push further the technology innovating and innovation.
  • University practical teaching is conducted with the help of sophisticated equipment in order to facilitate learning experience and cultivate practical skills to students.
  • Pedagogies universities in Germany intervene in general education to strengthen science background so that students can be highly qualified for the study in university.
  • Working culture of people in Germany is admired by then team of visit, found to be very dedicated to work a signed to them with high responsibility.

The actions initiated by SKU as responses to lesson learned are:

  • SKU’s leaders decide to cooperate with Karlsruhe University of Education to strengthen the capacity of English teaching and then other subjects in5
  • Academic managers of SKU make use of lessons learned from the visit to develop new campus in particular to design facilities to be ready for implementing study program so that the requirements of National Curriculum Standards can be fulfilled.
Text by S. Khemmarath, with notes by I. Martin
Photos by K. Buttgereit & C. Thammalungsy
1 “Qualification title” in Laos is confered to when someone finishes study program while the “academic title” is confered when you work, doing research writing papers, teaching for at least 8 years in case of assoc program, acquiring international language. There are criteria set by Prime Minister: There are four grades: 1 assistant teacher, 2 teacher, 3 associate professor and 4 professor. Both Dr Soulignong Saikosy (responsible for administration, i.e. physical resources, students affaires, finance, etc.) and Dr Bounheuang Nichaleun (responsible for undergraduate study progrmas) have “qualifaction titles”. Editor’s note: the President and the author of this article have academic titles.
2 Editor’s note: In forthcoming tandem-articles on the same subject, possible Western economic and other motives for cooperation will be addressed in more detail. German universities, for instance, are not funded to provide development aid, but to seek new ways to educate their students towards Global Citizenship, amongst other things, and find new research paths and funds.
3 Editor’s note: Selling Western text books to the expanding Asian market would be one of the Western economic motives. Unfortunately, many of them are not suited to the Lao learning context.
4 According to the National Curriculum Standard, a course has to be delivered in lecture (as theoretical class in big group), tutorial and/or laboratory (a practical classes in small group) but in reality only theoretical classes are current practice of teaching with demonstration of laboratory activities. This makes students getting limited chance of learning experience.
5 Editor’s note: A tandem-article to Dr. Sitha’s post is forthcoming: “Lao university delegation visits University of Education Karlsruhe – the German perspective”.
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