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Mobile teachers reach 7,000 out-of-school children in 280 Lao villages




Former gold mineworker and rubber plantation worker Kampun Niyapan is one of 51 trained mobile teachers in Lao PDR.  

“I would like to teach children how to read and write,” said Mr. Niyapan from Phine District in Savannakhet Province. 

“And I am excited to be involved in bringing school to children,” he said. 

The mobile teachers will be working in the 56 most educationally disadvantaged districts in the country.

Over 7,000 out-of-school children living in extremely poor and isolated villages in Lao PDR will have access to a primary education equivalency programme through the mobile teacher approach.  The mobile teachers work in a total of 282 villages in the most educationally disadvantaged districts in the country.

The programme has been developed by the Department of Non-Formal Education as part of the broader Education for All-Fast Track Initiative framework, jointly funded by Australia, the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank.  This programme aims to support the Government of Laos’s effort in achieving universal completion of primary education.  

According to the available data from the Ministry of Education and Sports, there were 46,420 out-of-school children in the 56 most educationally disadvantaged districts in 2008/2009. The factors related to enrolment rate and drop-out rate include poverty, difficulty in travelling to school, lack of skilful teachers, insufficient teaching-learning materials, low understanding and acceptance in education value and credibility. 

Savannakhet has been selected as the first province to pilot the project. At present, 102 target villages in four districts of Nong, Phine, Sepone and Thapangtong have been identified for the project. In 2005/6, 22.7 per cent of school aged children in the province were out-of-school the majority belonging to the Mon-Khmer ethnic group from remote rural villages.

Without a non-formal approach to reach out to remote areas, Lao PDR will not be able to achieve its universal primary education goal. 

In this Mobile Teacher Project, the Department of Non-Formal Education with UNESCO’s technical assistance has developed a primary equivalency programme curriculum and teaching and learning materials and trained master trainers, mobile teachers and village teaching assistants. 

Each mobile teacher is responsible for two remote villages with schools out of reach for students. These schools will be supported by a teaching assistant, a local resident in the villages who can read and write.

Classroom activities are conducted in a learning shelter in each village. These shelters are supported by the Village Education Development Committee for the construction and necessary furniture for children. The Committee is also responsible for accommodating mobile teachers. 

“It’s a hard work,” said Philany Phissamay, Director of Administration, Department of Non-Formal Education, as most villages do not have a suitable space for learning and some villages have as many as 80 out-of-school children.  “Mobile teachers have to travel long distance to reach villages and conduct multi-grade teaching,” she added. 

Mobile teachers teach five hours a day, five days a week for six months as in-class activities.  During the planting and harvest seasons, mobile teachers and village level teaching assistants have to travel to see their students in cultivating sites away from the villages to monitor their out-of-classroom activities. In Lao PDR students in agricultural areas have to relocate with their parents for cultivating purposes. 

Mobile Teacher Mr Niyapan said: “I am committed. My life has been difficult. As rubber plantation worker, I had to go deep into the forest. I can overcome whatever challenges and I want to pass on my knowledge to children.” 

Each mobile teacher receives a total package of 600,000 Lao Kip a month (75 US dollars), roughly equivalent to a formal-system school teacher.

For positions of mobile teachers in Savannakhet province the minimum requirement was graduation from Teacher Training College or experienced teachers with a minimum of lower secondary schooling plus three years of teacher education and training. Applicants from the target villages in particular were encouraged to apply. 

However, there were few candidates who met the minimum criteria. Higher Education in Laos is still quite limited to a small part of the population. Plus difficult working conditions of mobile teachers are not appealing to many qualified individuals. 

Mr Niyapan and almost all mobile teachers for this Project were graduates of upper secondary schools (Grade 11). There are not many applicants from the four target districts and Mr Niyapan is one of a few.

After being selected, the mobile teachers went through pre-service training and teaching practice organised between September and October last year by the Department of Non-Formal Education.   

“I loved and enjoyed the training and am confident in teaching. I have learned teaching processes, techniques and learner’s assessment. At the moment, I do not see any immediate challenges,” said Mr Niyapan.

A mock teaching was organised as part of the pre-service training for mobile teachers in October. Three groups of 20 mobile teachers travelled to three target villages to conduct two hours of teaching practice with target children. Three candidates are selected from each group to conduct classes and their challenges were shared among the teachers as peer learning.

After the teaching practice session in one of the target villages, Ms Malaiwan Xaiyawong, one of the mobile teacher candidates said: “I am so excited and pleased to see everyone so attentive. I rate 9 out of 10 for my teaching exercise today. When I faced difficulties during the teaching exercise, I could apply all I learned from the training like getting attention of children and giving encouragement to them.” 

“I want to go to children because it is difficult for them to come to school,” said Ms Xaiyawong, 19, a recent high school graduate.

The Department of Non-Formal Education is also seeking additional funding for capacity building of mobile teachers for the Teacher Upgrading Programme. With the upgrading programme, mobile teachers could be granted posts of civil servant.

The primary equivalency programme through mobile teachers has been implemented in 40 villages in Savannakhet as of the end of December 2011. Additional 62 villages in the same province will follow in the coming months. The program will be expanded to additional 180 villages in two new provinces, yet to be confirmed. 

Being asked about his dream, Mr Niyapan said: “I like to be a good, outstanding teacher and a role model to children and villagers. I hope our country will get out of poverty with our effort.”

By Nozomi Yamada
 UNESCO Bangkok