Reflections of a Lao Community Member

Are there any significant differences in the educational system of your country of origin and the U.S. that would affect teaching an English language learner? What challenges would these pose both for teachers and students? Are there any advantages of coming from that educational system for your people? Which ones?

We believe that the teacher is the most respected person after our parents. At home we respect our parents, at school we must respect our teacher as much as our own parent. Parental love to their children is unconditional love and the same thing is expected from a teacher, who would assume the responsibility of being a parent in terms of providing knowledge and guidance to all students as if they were his/her own children. Due to this respect, our parents leave educational matters and responsibilities to teachers without interfering or questioning. (That’s why we do not see an active Lao parent involvement in American schools). Also, due to respect is that children tend to learn by memorizing instead of questioning for in depth understanding.

Students must respect other teachers, and adults working at school, as their aunt and uncle. It is the duty of all adults at school to observe and provide guidance to students when they ditch school, misbehave and/or can hurt themselves (such as climbing trees or horse-playing etc.)

Teachers duties are not only at school grounds. It is a 24/7 job. because teachers live in the community and in the evenings might walk or right the bicycle around the community to find out who is reading (aloud) or study or playing. Our teachers gain a reputation when their students have passing grades and most of them successfully pass the promotion examination to move on to the next grade.

The educational system in Laos is based on the elimination system; to move on from the first grade to second grade students must pass a promotion exam. That’s true for second to third and so on. If a student fails the test s/he must repeat the same grade level for the whole year. At the end of the year s/he must take the test again in order to move on. To get in the junior high school and high school level, all students face the admissions test. This examination is a standardized test administered the same day all over the country.

After high school, students have to choose to get in technical school, law school, medical school, teacher training school, police academy, military officer school, agriculture and forestry school, business and commerce academy, or continue higher education abroad. Students who fail to get into these schools go into the labor force. There is no adult or continuing education available.

Are there any cultural differences/tendencies that teachers need to keep in consideration (that they MAY encounter) when teaching people from your cultural group?

In addition to the above information, please remember that, teaching is a very highly respected profession. Parents have trust and confidence in teachers (not like other occupations, such as policeman and the military). It is well known that police and the military have gun and power, Lao people are afraid of these two groups because of the misuse of these powers and the corruption.

What are the major religions within your ethnic group?

The majority of Lao people are Buddhist, with some practice of believing in the ancestry spirit. Few practice animism.

Do you think religion has an impact/effect on the way people in your culture tend to learn?
It depends on how we look at things. The Christian says to help yourself first and then God will help you. The Buddhist says that you are your own savior. (Nobody will not help you – if you don’t help yourself).
Some of our parent might have a tendency of believing in Bhram or the reincarnation, if his/her child has a poor grade, cannot learn as well as the other kids, s/he would say that “it’s Karma.” This means that the student or the family had done something wrong in the past and the student is suffering from that cause, instead of struggling to find extra help or working harder to be able to compete with the others.

What factors in the home or family relationships are critical for a teacher to know?

It’s very important for the teacher to learn the background of the child’s family. Lao refugees (or immigrants) are very different from one another. Some families from rural areas of Lao might not have any education while other families are well educated with a Ph. D. There is no one general formula to fit every household. There’s no cookie cutter for every problem. Some family might be assimilated to American society and way of living faster than the other.

How do the circumstances of emigration, being a refugee as opposed to leaving by choice, impact the needs of the students and influence instruction?

MOST Lao refugee parents are talking about the past, the good living life style while they were in Laos. They want to go back and spend time in the good old days and not focus on the future of reality. They do not interact much with what is going on around them. Children seem to be left alone searching for their own identity with confusion, they do not understand the background of their own family while at the same time their future is in the darkness. This situation not only impacts a child’s education but their environment as a whole.

Are there any other issues that are important for teachers to understand that we have not identified? Please elaborate.

Also please note that Lao culture is a male dominated culture. Please consider that much of the above information is pertaining to the father as the head of the household. While in some families responsibility is equally shared among husband and wife, most educational and family matters, the father seems to have more input in decision making than the mother.