Our cooperation with the Research Institute of Educational Sciences (RIES)
Prof. Martin: Part I
Our cooperation with the Research Institute of Educational Sciences (RIES) developed Lao-style, that is to say in an unplanned, offhand, and curiously successful way. It led to a most interesting partnership, with a view to future collaboration in
a) developing English teaching materials for Lao primary and secondary schools,
b) setting up and co-teaching the respective new teacher-training units (language and methodology) in summer school,
c) modernising the Curricula for primary and secondary schools in foreign language didactics and methodology.
In the next Primary School Syllabus (2018), for instance, one extra teaching hour is to be added for English per week, which calls for a revision and extension of the present course book, this time with a more learner-centered and communicative approach.
It also calls for more qualified English primary teachers. In an attempt to stops the gaps so far, many “Pedagogical Advisors” from secondary schools were given 8 weeks of English language training and 2 weeks of methodology over the summer months so they could “learn the book”. And let’s be honest: It was similar in Germany 15-20 years ago, with the notable difference that our teachers had had English lessons at school before. Some still did not like or want to speak English, as I remember from those in-service training weekends.
There are 8,400 primary and 3,800 secondary schools in Laos. It is heartening to hear that the new Lao Government is going to spend 19% of its budget on education. We hope that one of the beneficiaries is going to be the RIES so they can train more trainers and develop both their textbooks and Internet teaching materials for the provinces.
Here is what happened in the last 15 months:
First encounters with the Lao English course book series (2015)
When the Chairman of the Angel Foundation, Christian Engel, wrote me a mail in August 2015 asking whether I would consider visiting Laos to check out possibilities for aiding the AfC-supported schools in the subject of English, I was not online, but canoeing in the Canadian wilderness. Feeling both invigorated and relaxed on my return, I felt my calm collectedness give way to an acute, heightened reaction to this mail. I instantly knew that saying “yes” to this seemingly simple invitation would mean a) getting drawn into an amazing and irresistible project, and b) that a commitment of 1-2 years would very likely not suffice. More likely tenfold.
During the ensuing weekend of googling and utubing “Laos” in an attempt to weigh up the pros and cons whilst pacing up and down my flat, I still had enough good sense about me to ask the Foundation to first send me any English teaching material that they might already have, to get an idea of which situation I might be getting myself in for.
To cut a short story shorter: Johannes Zeck politely replied that he would send me the Lao English course books asap in the post. Christian Engel wrote a second mail two weeks later asking whether I could not perhaps already start this year, in October, more precisely in 6 weeks’ time.
Of course I decided to take the plunge, books or no books. My flight ticket was sent to me, and 10 days before my departure, a copy of the Lao English course book series for primary schools finally arrived. The Lao English course book series for primary and secondary schools is compulsory for all schools in the entire country. No other course books are allowed.
It took me a while to digest what I read. Had I received this book earlier, I would have reconsidered my decision.
Subsequent meetings at the RIES (2015/16)
For my first visit in Laos in October/November 2015, Christian Engel and Johannes Zeck had organised a tight schedule. On the very first day, several meetings with Lao state officials from institutions of education took place: To begin with, we were received by Mr Noupanh Outsa, General Director in the Ministry of Education and Sports.
A little later, over lunch in an Italian restaurant, I summoned the courage to ask whether he possibly knew any of the authors of the Lao English course book series. I had the book with me and showed him the list of authors and the introduction.
In their introduction to the book, the authors state that they would welcome comments and suggestions, as the book was compiled under time pressure. Did Mr Noupanh think this was to be taken at face value? If so, would this mean that I could perhaps get in touch with someone? By way of answer, Mr Soupanh produced his mobile and phoned one of the authors – a lecturer at the English Department of the National University of Laos (NUOL) – to ask about possible meetings both with him and a contact person in the Research Institute of Educational Sciences (RIES). Within a matter of 10 minutes, two meetings were arranged for me for the very next day, one at the NUOL, one at the RIES. Six more meetings followed, three each, in December 2015, January 2016, and October 2016, and the ice was broken somewhere along the way.
For this, one sine-qua-non had been the official announcement by the then Vice-Minister of Education, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kongsy Sengmany, of his approval of our work at the AfC-supported schools. Once Dr. Kongsy had visited our schools and then declared that they would welcome any further help with the development of English instruction in Laos, RIES Director Mr Khamphanh Phimsipasom and Vice-Director Ms Viengkham Phonpraseuth welcomed us most warmly and started listing the numerous ways by which any suggestions we might have could be included in their programme.
Enter Team III (October 2016)
David Schrep (Team III): Part II
After our project leaders Prof. Martin and Johannes Zeck had paved the way for a future cooperation, we got the invitation by the RIES to present our ideas for our workshop on the 20th of November 2016 – Assessing and enriching teaching material. During this first meeting we were overwhelmed by how positively our ideas for extra material were welcomed
. Our hosts were especially impressed with our handicraft templates of a dice and a clock, which we had made for various use in the classroom.
In exchange, we hoped to get the teaching material that goes with the course books, because Prof. Martin had not been able to locate any up to this point.
It turned out that most of the material for the secondary schools had not been produced yet. However, in return, we were given the CD for the secondary course book 1, plus a lot of teaching material that goes with the primary course books,
i.e. flashcards and audio-recordings.
The RIES team were highly interested in intensifying the cooperation with us. So, first, we shared the video-recording of our first workshop, which we had conducted at the secondary school in Ban Phang Heng. Second, we were invited to help record the audio-CD for course book 2. As this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, we accepted the invitation and got the script for Matthayom 2 (Lao for “course book 2”), featuring 89 tracks. We had one week to study the script, so we sat straight down to practice.
On 23 November 2016 we met again with Ms Viengkham Phonpraseuth, Vice-Director of the Foreign Language Center, and her lovely team – Ammaly Alathep, Viengkham Singvongsa, Kamphouving Inthavong, Paphavady Ekkanath, Manoly Dongvan, Vongmani, Kohnesavanh – in her office. After some small talk we were escorted to the recording studio of the RIES. Our first impression when we entered the studio certainly did not match our expectations. We entered the first room, where sound engineer Mr Khamphouving Inthavong worked at his mixing desk, which consisted of a mixing console, a computer, and two speakers. Through two squeaking doors we came into the second room, where they had a table, a few chairs, hundreds of old audio-tapes, and a microphone. We felt like in a time lapse, catapulted 50 years back in time.
We started the recording with a short sound check and got a short instruction by the sound engineer. In the beginning it was very hard for us to stay focused and serious. Especially, the songs and chants kept us giggling all the time, therefore we had to do the first recordings over and over again.
[Recording_Turn left at the light]
Luckily, with time we got more comfortable and confident in speaking so that we eventually managed to record one track after another.
Some tracks required more than two speakers, so Johannes Zeck and Johanna Landvogt joined us for those parts.
By the end of the day we had had a lot of fun recording and working together with an experienced group of Lao didactics experts. We are proud to have been invited to play a central role in the recording of this audio-CD and glad to have been able to support education in Laos.
Our future cooperation will include the recording of the audio-CD for course book 3, as well as a filmed sample lesson which is going to be used in the Lao teacher-training centres. We are looking forward to intensifying this cooperation between the RIES and the Angels for Children Foundation in and for the future.
… and here are more helping hands preparing the next meeting:
Text by I. Martin, D. Schrep & A. Broghammer
Photos by A. Broghammer, I. Martin, D. Schrep & J. Zeck