Starting out in village schools: learning to teach in Lao PDR

Willsher, M 2013, Starting out in village schools: learning to teach in Lao PDR, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Starting out in village schools: learning to teach in Lao PDR
Author(s) Willsher, M
Year 2013
Abstract This ethnographic study, which examines how four young teachers working in rural primary schools in the Lao PDR began their teaching careers, is the first study in Laos to be focused on the everyday work of beginning teachers. The study provides a contextualized account of the professional experiences of the teachers and highlights the social and cultural conditions that impacted upon them as they struggled to come to grips with the realities of the school and the classroom. The research examines how their professional experiences influenced their evolving practices and considers how, and to what extent, they were able to adjust to their new roles.

Over an 18-month period of fieldwork, observations and interviews were used as the primary research methods to construct the case studies. An initial period of six months was spent in southern Laos at the Pakse Teachers’ Training College (TTC) ‘following’ a cohort of trainee-teachers over the concluding half of their one-year teacher training diploma course. Then four of the trainees, now beginning teachers, participated for a further twelve months in the study during which time the researcher made a series of week-long visits to the four villages where the teachers had been posted. During these visits 155 lessons were formally observed, 121 semi-structured interviews were conducted and extensive journal notes kept of observations and conversations. An analysis of the data found that beginning teachers each experienced similar pressures from their colleagues to conform to the established patterns and behaviours in their school. In effect the ‘community of practice’, with all its potential for nurture and guidance, operated as a ‘community of compliance’.

Professional struggles which each of the beginning teachers encountered over their first year are encapsulated in the study as five ‘dilemmas’ - whether or not to respond to requests from colleagues for help; whether to report student progress accurately or not; whether to seek professional help from colleagues or whether to remain silent; whether to employ learner-centred methods or whether to keep to ‘traditional’ methods; and whether to respond to the students’ learning needs or just simply teach to the textbook like everyone else. The four beginning teachers, unpaid ‘volunteers’ with no job security, had little resilience when faced with such choices.

To resolve these dilemmas and maintain social harmony the four beginning teachers each typically adopted the strategy of ‘compliance’ with the dominant practices. However, at times they also adopted a strategy of ‘compromise’ as they struggled to find ways to assist their students to learn.

Through the study the professional needs of beginning teachers in small rural primary schools in Laos have been identified. Outcomes of the study are two sets of recommendations for improving the quality of teacher education in Laos, grounded in the social and cultural contexts of the schools where the beginning teachers work. The first set of recommendations are directed at reconfiguring TTC pre-service programs while the second set puts forward ideas for developing a beginning teacher workplace support program.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Keyword(s) Lao PDR
beginning teachers
community of practice
teacher education
primary education
community of compliance
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Created: Fri, 02 Nov 2018, 12:34:20 EST by Keely Chapman
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