Supporting education transformation in Lao PDRResearch 15 Jun 2023 8 minute read
ACER is working with partners to drive education system transformation in Lao PDR.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) has some of the poorest learning outcomes for primary school students in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region. Results from the ACER-supported Southeast Asian Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) 2019, found that after 5 years of school, only 50% of students can match a single word to a simple picture.
We know that education reform takes time. That’s why ACER has been working closely with the Government of Lao PDR since 2014. Over this time, ACER has developed trusted partnerships with government ministries, development partners and local organisations to improve learning outcomes for children.
ACER’s early support in Lao PDR was through a situational analysis of student learning, which identified a mismatch between curriculum expectations and student abilities. This led to the development of a revised set of competencies for the early years, and support for the Lao Government’s Research Institute for Educational Science (RIES) on the implementation of a national assessment of student learning outcomes.
Monitoring student learning enables the Lao government to introduce policies and practices as part of the education reform process that specifically targets learning improvement. Since 2014, ACER has been working in partnership with the Southeast Asian Ministers for Education Organization (SEAMEO), UNICEF and RIES on the implementation of SEA-PLM, the first large-scale regional assessment of Grade 5 students for ASEAN countries. The results from SEA-PLM have provided valuable evidence to governments on where and how to target education system transformation priorities, including curriculum reform, teacher development and school improvement strategies.
From classroom to system level support, our work in Lao PDR focuses on 3 key areas:
- improving teaching and learning
- building system resilience
- Strengthening local capacity
Improving teaching and learning
International research has shown that teachers play a pivotal role in the learning outcomes of their students. That’s why in Lao PDR, ACER is working with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to improve teaching quality.
Over the last 5 years, ACER has been conducting the Teacher Development Multi-year Studies to determine the effectiveness of teacher professional development programs as part of the roll out of the new national curriculum in Lao PDR. With a focus on the early years, data has been collected over 3 cycles in 355 primary schools, from approximately 350 Grade 1 teachers, 350 principals and 2200 grade 1 students. The study has provided important insights into young children’s language acquisition and how teachers can better support these critical first years of children’s schooling. Released later this year, findings and recommendations from the final report will help inform the future direction of teacher professional learning programs.
Building system resilience
To help build the resilience of the Lao education system, ACER is working with education partners to ensure that our research is demand-driven and responsive to local priorities. As part of the Australian Strategic Partnerships in Remote Education (ASPIRE) initiative funded by DFAT, ACER worked with Australia’s Monash College and the Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) to equip teacher trainers and lecturers with online pedagogy and digital skills to deliver remote education.
The ASPIRE partnership was pivotal at the height of COVID-19 school closures and will help to prepare for future educational disruptions. The interactive online workshops have created a platform for teachers and lecturers across Lao PDR to continue to share ideas and resources.
ACER recently undertook a study for RTI International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the All Children Reading-Asia project to examine the readiness, response and recovery of Lao PDR’s education system before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study identified key policy and system-level enablers that can help the Lao government prepare for future crises. This includes having a strong coordination mechanism for the communication and mobilisation of government resources, as well a stronger focus on inclusion and equity, especially in disadvantaged areas.
Drawing on ACER’s extensive research on technology and education, ACER has been commissioned by the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report to explore the opportunities and challenges for the digitalisation of the education system in Lao PDR. The findings will contribute to the GEM Regional Report on Technology and Education in Southeast Asia.
Strengthening local capacity
ACER recognises that local researchers possess a rich knowledge and deep understanding of the Lao context. To ensure the relevance and sustainability of our work in Lao PDR, ACER adopts a capacity-sharing approach with our local partners. As part of SEA-PLM in Lao PDR, ACER has been building the technical capacity of RIES to lead a nationally representative Grade 5 student assessment in reading, writing and mathematics. Our collaboration with RIES has also led to the integration of research practice into the fourth-year teacher preparation program, through the training of students to conduct student assessments in schools.
ACER’s development of a customised classroom observation tool for use by local research partners has made it possible to understand how teacher practices in the classroom are linked to the new Lao language curriculum. The confidence of Lao local researchers with the classroom observation tool led to their involvement in the data analysis process, further building their capacity and enabling the collection of rich observation data. This knowledge and experience were critical when the pandemic hit and restricted international travel.
Demonstrating progress as a nation, Lao PDR will take on the role of ASEAN chair in 2024, and plans to graduate from least developed country status by 2026. Development partners are also increasing their focus on education in Lao PDR, given its immense need and persistent challenges in meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets.
While long-term education reform in Lao PDR will take more time, ACER is committed to supporting the Government of Lao to achieve its reform agenda, in line with the vision set out in the Lao Education and Sports Sector Development Plan (ESSDP) 2021-2025. We will also use learnings from our partnerships and programs in Lao PDR, to help support education system transformation in other countries in the region.
Learn more about ACER’s work in education and development