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Investing in teacher development in Lao PDR
(c) Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Investing in teacher development in Lao PDR

Research 5 minute read

Support for the rollout of a new Lao language grade 1 curriculum is making a positive contribution to teaching quality in Lao PDR. 

Recent research has revealed promising results 2 years after the introduction of a new Lao language grade 1 curriculum in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The new curriculum is supported by the Basic Education Quality and Access in Lao PDR (BEQUAL) program, which is led by the Lao Government, with support from the Australian Government. BEQUAL has been implemented in 34 districts across Lao PDR.  

Part of a multi-year teacher development study series led by ACER, this research was initiated by the Australian Government’s Education Analytics Service to better understand the effectiveness of their support in 3 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Data for the Lao PDR study was collected in 2019 and 2021 to assess the impact of BEQUAL in improving teaching quality and student literacy outcomes. A final round of data is being collected. As part of the study, more than 360 teachers and 345 principals were surveyed across 355 schools.  

The 2021 study revealed that 87 per cent of grade 1 teachers have participated in BEQUAL’s new curriculum orientation. The teachers reported that participating in the orientation strengthened teacher knowledge, attitudes and practices for Lao language. Teachers have demonstrated increased familiarity with the new curriculum and pedagogies, and have broadened their range of teaching and learning activities and use of resources.  They are also engaging more with curriculum support systems.  

The new curriculum requires significant change for teachers, including a shift towards more student-centred teaching methods and a phonics approach to teaching reading. Many teachers noted that while the orientation sessions and support were valued, they needed more professional learning. They also reported that students’ low Lao language skills, high levels of absenteeism and limited parental support were also barriers to implementing the new curriculum effectively. 

Changes in teaching quality are not yet enough to impact student literacy this early in the implementation of the new curriculum. And the effects of schooling disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could still be ongoing. However, there are lessons learned from the testing results of the 2,212 grade 1 students who participated in the 2021 study.  

Although there were no gender differences in 2019, female students performed better than male students in 2021. There were also regional variations in student performance – in both 2019 and 2021, the district of Phongsali had the most students in low performing levels, while Sekong had the most students in the highest performing levels. 

The study highlighted the complex interplay between context, curriculum and teaching, and the critical role that teachers and parents play in supporting children as they transition to school. The four recommendations for policymakers were to:

  1. focus on building students’ oral language skills in Lao language

  2. embed ongoing professional learning for teachers, principals and pedagogical advisers

  3. target interventions for the lowest performing students and boys

  4. advocate and educate parents and communities on the role they can play in promoting students’ readiness for school and the inclusion of children with disability.  

The results from the study in Lao PDR provide valuable insights into where additional student and teacher support is required. As the rollout of the new BEQUAL curriculum continues across more grades, recommendations from the latest research will help strengthen the program and teacher development. 

Further reading

Read the Report Highlights: Evaluation of Australia’s investment in teacher development in Lao PDR: Interim Report 1

Read the Teacher Development Multi-Year Study Series. Evaluation of Australia’s investment in teacher development in Lao PDR: Interim Report 1

Read the Teacher development multi-year study series: Evaluation of Australia’s investment in teacher development in Lao PDR: Baseline report

Learn more about ACER’s education and development work.  

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