Every Friday, Ajan Bounthien and his teachers create extra teaching materials

This new episode of the Role Model docuseries captures the story of a passionate and dedicated school principal from Xiangkhouang province

School principals play an important role in improving student learning outcomes as they can create safe, engaging and inclusive learning environments for their teachers and students.

The TV, radio and newspaper teams from the Information Media Center (IMC) of Lao PDR’s Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), with support from the Australian Government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the BEQUAL program, has just released a new episode of the Role Model docuseries. It tells the story of an inspiring public-school principal from Muang Kham in Xiangkhouang province.

Ajan Bounthien Thammavongseng became a teacher in 1999. Passionate and dedicated, he has received the “Merit Award” from the Ministry of Education and Sports several times. He taught for many years in very rural areas before becoming a school principal in Muang Kham.

Ajan Bounthien is very proud of the environment he has created for his school. With the help of the community, he built wooden huts in the beautiful green school yard. “Our community does not have a lot of money”, he said “but they provided the materials, and the work”. The students use the huts during break times to read storybooks. Ajan Bounthien explained “The literacy of the students has significantly improved since we created these outdoor reading corners. I encourage students to read with peers, ask older students to help younger ones and let students take books home to read with their family.”

The school also has a vegetable and flower garden and chickens. The teachers organize lessons in the garden to put knowledge into practice in different subjects. In mathematics lessons in the garden students learn about calculating areas. In Lao language lessons students learn the names of different plants and how to spell them. Teachers also use the garden to help students learn about the life cycle of a chicken.

Ajan Bouthien promotes health and hygiene at the school and has created a handwashing station using locally available materials: “it was easy to build and it was very affordable. I want the students to understand they should wash their hands regularly. Hygiene is very important. You can’t learn well if you are sick.” The students also receive guidance on how to brush their teeth properly every day after lunch.

A garden to learn Maths, Lao Language and Sciences

Students discovering the pleasure of reading during lunch break

Several neighboring schools have come to get advice and build their own handwashing stations. Ajan Bounthien values collaboration with other schools. “I think it is important to share knowledge, experience and resources with teachers from other schools through visits or cluster meetings. Recently, I gave advice on how to arrange tables to prepare for different pair or group work activities for a visiting group of teachers. One of our teachers is good at English and he demonstrated how to teach English using the phonics approach at the last cluster meeting.”

Handwashing station built with cheap and local materials

In the documentary, Ajan Bounthien stresses the importance of Principals supporting teachers. With the new primary curriculum now being taught in all grades, teachers need time and ongoing support to fully adopt the new way of teaching. He organizes regular meetings to ensure his team works together to create teaching resources, solve challenges, and plan. He constantly engages with his teachers and encourages them to continually expand their knowledge, skills and experience. Ajan Bountien uses several techniques to support his teachers. He arranges co-teaching between two teachers of different grades, or with himself as he is also a teacher. “I like co-teaching as this method exposes teachers to different classroom practices and helps them reflect on each other’s teaching approach”. He also uses classroom observation to help his teachers solve challenges and improve the quality of their teaching. Ajan Bouthien notes that “motivation is key; this is why I always praise my teachers. I provide feedback in a positive and constructive way, being careful not to hurt any feelings. I want my team to know I am always open to discussing challenges with them, with honesty and no bias.”

Ajan Bounthien believes that engagement with the community and parents is key. He organizes parents’ meetings, especially at the beginning of the school year He and his teachers give regular feedback to parents on their child’s learning and progress. 

Ajan Bounthien liaising with school parents

The video production team with Ajan Bounthien

Passionate and inclusive principals such as Ajan Bounthien can make a huge impact on the quality of education and the future of the new generation. They are inspiring models for other teachers and principals. Ajan Bounthien said that “I strongly believe in education. I became a teacher because I was inspired by my own former teachers who developed me as a person. I want to be the person who helps young children to develop, blossom and reach their full potential.”

The story of Ajan Bounthien can be watched on the ວິດີໂອສໍາລັບການພັດທະນາຄູ Teacher Development Video You Tube Channel and on Education and Sports TV on Lao Sat Channel 8. The Role Model docuseries project is supported by the Australian Government and the United States Agency for International Development through the BEQUAL program. The objective of these interview-based videos is to promote and share best practices to boost the implementation of the new curriculum and highlight innovative ways of addressing teaching and learning challenges.

Watch the video here (version with English subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM_mZX07ulU