Thursday, May 26, 2016

Joyful early childhood learning in classrooms of Laos

Children reading from 'My Village' storybooks in Ban Nadou pre-school
Three stops, three classrooms. Arriving at the gate of Ban Doub School, our first stop, in Ta Oi district of Saravan province, we hear a clamour from within. The children are laughing, clapping and singing, “My village! My Village is beautiful! My village is fun! My village has a lot of colourful flowers!” We are surprised how quick children remember and learn to sing this song. The Early Childhood Education (ECD) TV team and the ‘My Village’ Claymation series from which the song comes from is from visited this school months earlier in December 2015.

After the fun of singing the song subsides, children sit in a circle. One of the children ask the teacher if she will tell them the stories using the new colourful storybooks. In a unique example of media crossover, the story books are based on the ‘My Village’ series and were developed and supplied by UNICEF with the support of the Lao Government. The show is aimed squarely at under 5s and embraces early childhood learning. It includes characters from different ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities and aims to expose children to taught skills such as literacy, numeracy and creative skills. Many children in Laos watch foreign television, often dominated by soap operas and martial arts shows. My Village aims to redress that balance, even in a small way, and offer an educational, informative and fun new world for Lao children to inhabit.

Ms Vilasone Khounphanith, teaches in Ban Doub
pre-primary school
Ms Vilasone Khounphanith, a pre-primary  teacher at Ban Doub explains more, “the children like the new storybook very much compared with the previous ones. The new books are very colourful, short and easy to understand. When I bring them to class, children’s eyes visibly light up. When I open the books and tell the stories, children often get up and gather round trying to come closer to see the pictures.”

This picture of a child’s undivided attention does not simply stem from vibrantly engaging material. The material is also being brought to life. Ms Vilaysone  attended training on storytelling techniques in Saravan Province in May 2016. “The training provides me more skills in storytelling, how to prepare, how to talk and how to attract children’s attention” says Ms Vilaysone.

Our next destination, stop two, is Ban Ta Oi Kindergarten. Upon arrival we hear the unmistakable chime of children loudly speaking words in rote: banana… orange… papaya… We looks through the window and see children sitting around a teacher. The question is simple – what do you see in the book?
Ms Bounthavy Anongsy, teaching in Ta Oi kindergarten 

Ms Bounthavy Anongsy, a teacher of Ta Oi kindergarten tells us that she just came back from the training in Saravan the previous day. “I can see that children like the new storybooks, they can learn the names of fruits quickly by looking at the attractive pictures.” A four years old boy, Max, says he likes orange because it looks very beautiful.

On the way back to Vientiane, we make our final stop at a school in the village of Ban Nadou. We see children busy reading new storybooks. When asking Nitha (5) how she likes the book, she smiles and says “I love colourful cartoon characters that can go to school”. Most children are little shy in answering our questions, but when we look at their faces and bright eyes, we see all the answers needed.

Story and Photos: Tabongphet Phouthavong, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Lao PDR.


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