Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Things are somewhat intense here at the Casa Nada...we are on the move......The keys to the new flat were handed over to us today and after lunch we moved about 20 boxes and 30 plants into the new larger apartment. The move should be finished by Friday but one never knows does one.
I am going against the blogging traditional format and posting a large piece which I finished writing today for Education and Post-Colonial Societies.....It is a brief analysis of a document which was written in 1994 about teacher training in Laos..a land I would very much like to visit one day.
I hope someone finds it interesting:

Education and Post Colonial Societies
Assignment 3
“Concept Paper: Primary and Secondary Teacher Education”
Laos 1994

Laos is an impoverished land-locked South-east Asia nation with a population of 5.7 million in 2002, which has struggled with colonial and neo-colonial domination from the 7th Century. Since 1975 it has been a single party communist state with strong ties to the government of Vietnam. From 1954-75 it was a major battle field in the Second Indo-China War and for “nearly a decade, Laos was subjected to the heaviest bombing in the history of warfare, as the United States sought to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through eastern Laos.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Laos). Laos began decentralization of the economy and encouragement of private enterprise in 1986 in what is called the policy of New Economic Mechanism (NEM). During the period 1988-2001 the economy experienced 7% average growth. With this opening up to market capitalism came an influx of foreign aid agencies, educational and financial bodies into the country including Sida, U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The World Bank, CARE, AUSAID, USAID, Oxfam, European Union, the Asian Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Laos has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for 53% of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. Estimated per capita income in 2002 was only US$310. The average life expectancy in 2002 was 54 years. (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/laos/laos_brief.html). In June 1995 the National University of Laos was established through the amalgamation of ten existing Higher Education Institutions and a Center of Agriculture.

The document; Concept Paper: Primary and Lower-Secondary Teacher Education: Ministry of Education: Teacher Development Center 1994 Laos, is a brief outline of intentions and definitions in teacher education by a government run education body which is very dependant on international assistance but also desiring to maintain high levels of control over content. The opening section; Educational Roles and Qualities in the New Period comes in the form of “directives” and despite the use of the word “Qualities” the content is divided roughly half and half between goals as single points such as “basic knowledge about the PDR of Lao, Symbols of the country, the national flag…” and general values based instruction such as “the value of work”. It goes on to give directives in regard to the attitudes of the students that are to be sought by teachers. This includes “Abhorrence of enemies of the nation….An avoidance of extravagance and selfishness….The willingness to sacrifice personal interest for the sake of the collective good”. The basic direction of this approach continues through the primary schools years with added ‘core subjects’ of arithmetic, literacy (language unspecified but presumably Lao), hygiene and the continued important value of “willingness to work”. Into the lower-secondary level of education the values continue to be “a love of homeland and nation”, unity and respect for elders and betters, and of course “a strong will to serve the country”. This basically goes on to the upper-secondary level where work roles are “assigned” and the “Active participation in the construction and protection of the nation” begins (Concept Paper 1994: 1-2). There is nothing about self-expression, critical understanding, investigation or problem solving as goals within this section. This section of content does not reflect a system which would “produce individuals capable of investigating and discovering the world around them.” (Tabulawa 2003:20).

The second part of the Concept Paper document describes the new role of teachers in the planned restructuring of education in Laos. This section is particularly interesting as it employs terms from pedagogic methodology which are recognized as radical or revolutionary in their original contexts. Learning by doing, learner centered, life long learning and teachers as facilitators but not instructors are all terms used in the opening few lines of this section. As an example of learner centered pedagogy it is stated in the second point that teachers “must function as psychologists, counsellors and consultants. Students are going through different psychological and psychological stages [sic] and teachers must be sensitive and responsive to these age differences as well as to the individual differences of students” (Concept Paper 1994:2). One interesting point of cultural orientation, although perhaps not surprising if we consider the history of the region, is the adaptation of British English in spelling over the contemporarily more common choice of American (i.e. counsellors). In many places this section of the document seems to almost contradict statements made in the first section directed toward the goals of students. The role of teachers is described in Freire’s terminology as having “shifted from knowledge bankers, knowledge paymasters, and knowledge examiners to facilitators, consultants, lifelong learners and innovators” (emphasis mine. Concept Paper 1994:3). It is stated that “teachers must have an understanding of the nature of social change” (Concept Paper 1994:3) although not done here the nature of the change is perhaps outlined elsewhere in the broader education policy. The paper also acknowledges that “The world has been changing very quickly” (Concept Paper 1994:2) and teachers must be sensitive to this change in order to remain relevant. It seems almost as an acknowledgment of western modernity but one that holds no deeper explanation of that change.

The third section of the Concept Paper is entitled Guidelines and Principles of Teacher Education and it is an outline of the content development of curriculum program as to be followed by teachers. This curriculum number one aim is to address “the priority needs of the Lao P.D.R” (Concept Paper 1994:4) these certainly political ‘needs’ are never stated in the Concept Paper. Under the Nine Principles of Curriculum Development: “The direction of instruction must be top-down and not bottom-up” (Concept Paper 1994:4), although in the previous New Roles for Teachers section the emphasis seemed to be on learner centred education and the deciding role of the child in teaching. Nationalism remains a requirement for teachers as it did for students, and although the banking method was supposedly abandoned on Page 3 of the paper there is still a clear emphasis on tested learning. During the teacher training program 2 of the 18 weeks are given over to testing at the end of the term, so teacher training assessment is not ongoing (Concept Paper 1994:6). In their practice the teacher’s quantitative assessment methods are given as important both for the student’s and their own teaching performance. “Activity based learning” remains a ‘prototype’ of curriculum development as does the contexts of learning through “Application to daily life, and Group learning and group discussion.” (Concept Paper 1994:4). Dewey’s philosophy (School and Society 1907) is perhaps a source for the principle of stressing “a close relationship between school and community.” (Concept Paper 1994:5). The final section of the Concept Paper is a tabulated and calculated brake down of content and time in the new teacher training program. Under the sub-heading of General Characteristics of the Curriculum the main theme seems to be renewal and the promotion of a robust, non-specialized training of student teachers who can “skilfully teach both basic subjects as well as either arts, physical education, or technology.” (Concept Paper 1994:6) after 3 years or 2784 hours of full time training.

The pressures and problems facing Laos on the domestic and world scene are clearly complex and many. Foreign powers recognize the strategic and economic potential of the small nation with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stating:
In the longer term, Laos has many advantages. It shares borders and common interests with Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, forming what many see as a natural economic growth area of the future. While the domestic market is very small, there are millions of people who live within 100km of Laos’s borders who will generate new market opportunities as transit routes are further developed. Laos is also starting to exploit its natural resource base, particularly in energy production and mining. (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/laos/laos_brief.html)

Halpin and Troyna, in their thesis on education borrowing policy as legitimation, correctly note that “elected officials and politicians are more likely to be interested in a borrowed policy’s political symbolism than its details’ (Halpin and Troyna 1995:307)” (taken from Jansen 2002:205). Much of the content in the Concept Paper needs to be viewed in the broader historical and political contexts of Laos and the associated nations. Throughout the paper the role and importance of the state is expressed clearly although without a lot of detail. Simultaneous to this is the borrowed content of the paper which is being directed back toward the source cultures which can already be seen to have processed much of the thought behind such terminology as ‘banking knowledge’ and ‘child centered learning’ ‘facilitators, consultants, lifelong learners and innovators’ (if the West has actually broadly adopted these methods is contentious). The dilemma facing the Laotian regime in education and the necessity of aid is summarized in the USAID statement: “The aim is to help the impoverished people of Laos without helping or lending credence to the one-party Communist regime.” (http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/one_pagers/laos01a.htm). It can therefore be assumed that the political direction of education would be considered when assessing programs and supporting them. This can spill out into other areas of aid also as Sarnoff states; “Funding and technical assistance agencies have reduced or discontinued funding where they regarded the government uncooperative or unapproachable.” (Sarnoff 1999:264). Considering the above mentioned hopes held by the Australian government of Laos as a source of wealth and access to the surrounding potential markets, the threat of neo-colonial economic imperialism can be seen to be always present. The extensive involvement of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Laos should also give rise to concern over the long-term future of education in the region. Clearly the poverty of Laos is a problem to be overcome but how that is to be done should not be left solely in the hands of these also undemocratic organisations:
The agenda of the World Trade Organisation to turn education into a commodity through the effects of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in Services (GATS) is alarming (Monteux 2003). This transformational process has already started and will, if it succeeds in its intent, leave one of humankind’s common assets, the right to education, in the hands of profit makers. This has already happened with other basic needs (Desai, 2003). (Dahlström 2003:2)

On the micro scale the depth of innovation in the education policy as outlined in the Concept Paper needs to be seriously reviewed. Once again as is the situation with model borrowing and the donor business, the political landscape determines much of what is acknowledged and allowed. A truly democratic and creative pedagogy in Laos would in many ways contradict the political economy of the State however it also could strengthen the State as it would provide an educated resourceful population of skilled and independent individuals. The long term dynamic power of the State does not so much lie in its rules but in its abilities, as acknowledged by Dahlström when he stated:
If schooling is to be a source of empowering enlightenment rather than an instrument of domesticating indoctrination, its intellectual content must recruit the creative imagination of the growing child. And if the consequences for the local community are to be cultural enrichment and socio-economic progress, rather than debilitating social conflict, cultural demoralization and economic stagnation, an active dialogue is required among the varied perspective of its multiple interest groups. Serpell R (1993). (Dahlström L. 2002:62)

Finally, the document; Concept Paper: Primary and Lower-Secondary Teacher Education: Ministry of Education: Teacher Development Center 1994 Laos, should be seen as a portion of the overall policy. There is little reference to time scale in regards to implementation of policy and this is an important aspect of education development. In order for an educational system to produce individuals capable of recognizing and resisting hegemonic forces of indoctrination and associated atrophy there must be time for structures of dialogue to develop. As outlined in Dahlström’s Post-apartheid teacher education reform in Namibia (2002), time scales can often be long term and ten years to build a counter-hegemonic bloc through dialogue is reasonable. Ongoing rhetoric from any involved party does not accomplish this, nor do inflexible rules, long-term secrecy or restrictions.


Dahlström L. (2003) Critical Practitioner Inquiry and the Struggle over the Preferential Right of Interpretation in the South in forthcoming Educational Action Research.

Dahlström L. (2002) Post-apartheid teacher education reform in Namibia: The struggle between common sense and good sense. Umeå University.

Jansen, Jonathan D. (2002) Political Symbolism as Political Craft: explaining non-reform in South African Education after apartheid. Journal of Education Policy. Volume 17. No. 2, 199-215

Ministry of Education Laos (1994) Concept Paper: Primary and Lower-Secondary Teacher Education: Ministry of Education: Teacher Development Center 1994 Laos

Steiner-Khamsi, Gita. (2000) Transferring Education, Displacing Reforms. In Jurgen Schriewer (ed.) Discourse Formation in Comparative education. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.155-187.

Samoff, Joel (1999) Educational Sector analysis in Africa: limited national control and even less national ownership, International Journal of Educational Development. Volume 19:249-272

Tabulawa, Richard (2003). International Aid Agencies, Learner-centred Pedagogy and Political democratisation: a critique Comparative Education. Volume 29, No. 1: 7-29

Web Sources Cited:

The Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Laos

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/laos/laos_brief.html

USAID website: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/one_pagers/laos01a.htm

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