When coming to landlocked Laos, you probably would not expect to meet Laotians who speak German – but quite a few do! You may not know that Germany and Laos have had a long-lasting relationship: in 2016 the Lao-German Friendship Association celebrated the 58th anniversary of diplomatic relations between both countries since 1958.
One of these connections exists between the Angels for Children foundation and the Lao German Technical College (LGTC) in Vientiane, whose director Mr Somlith Virivong speaks fluent German. On hearing about the foundation’s new project “Teaching English in Laos”, he invited the project management to visit the LGTC on 2 November 2015 to discuss the dire need for English in vocational training institutions (cf. “Timeline”).
During Christian Engel’s and Prof. Martin’s second visit in December, a “Memorandum of Understanding” was not only signed between the foundation and the University of Education Karlsruhe to promote English learning, but also between the Engel family firm BHS Corrugated and the LGTC to improve vocational training. To manage the latter, Mr Bernhard Fuerst, who is the Chairman of the Bavarian Regional Association of Master of Industries (and a Bachelor Professional of Metal Production Technology and Operations (CCI) as well as an experienced trainer in vocational schools), had been invited to acquaint himself with the place, and he decided soon after to commit to the project. He is now in charge of the introduction of the “Dual Cooperative Training” that is a German speciality, which starts with special training courses in September 2016.
The idea to combine both cooperations and to implement the “Teaching English in Laos” programme at the College as well seemed a natural conclusion: The College students, too, need better English skills for better chances on the ASEAN job market, and many international firms are waiting for a better trained work force to open up new businesses and factories in Laos, which, in turn, would create new jobs.
So, the project management and the LGTC decided that from September 2016 on, Prof. Martin would be accompanied by two additional volunteers from the University of Education Karlsruhe to start the “teach-the-teacher” programme at the College. This means designing a tailor-made in-service teacher training syllabus after model-teaching and tandem-teaching some classes, and then also offering workshops in English language proficiency, modern foreign language didactics and methodology. Supporting the trainers in revising or updating their teaching materials will also be part of their tasks, and of course they will report on their work in this blog, too!
On a larger scale, as with the other three schools supported by Angels for Children, the new programme at the Lao German Technical College is to serve as a role model for other vocational training schools or colleges regarding the improvement of both vocational training and standards in English proficiency. And indeed, the directors of several other vocational training colleges, who were present during the second meeting in December, have already approached the project management with their own request of support. They would like to offer in-service training in the English language and foreign language didactics to their teaching staff as well.
Historical background: In 1975 both German states opened embassies in Vientiane. After German reunification, the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany joined the former embassy of the German Democratic Republic, which is now the current embassy of Germany in Laos, with His Excellency Mr Michael Grau as Ambassador. Although the German Democratic Republic was dissolved in 1990 and had only been active in Laos for 15 years, it had had a major impact on the country. In the name of “cooperation with socialist brother states” more than 3,000 young Laotians were trained in Eastern Germany, mainly in the technical and vocational field. After returning to Laos with a high-quality education and German language proficiency, many of them made their way to high ranks in politics and economy. Seven ministers and vice-ministers of the present Lao government studied or received vocational training in the German Democratic Republic, just like the director of the LGTC, our new partner Mr Somlith Virivong. Another noteworthy example is the Vice Minister of Education, Prof. Dr. Kongsy Sengmany, who studied physics in Dresden (and came to visit our schools in January 2016).
The Lao German Technical College in Vientiane is a vocational training school under the Ministry of Education and Sports and a manifest part of the ties with Germany. It was established in 1964 as the “Lao-German Vocational Secondary School” with German support and has changed its name over the years more than once. In 2015 the “Lao German Technical School” received College status.
Currently around 1,000 students attend the College, which offers six main branches of vocational training: Automotive technology, metal machining, electro-electronics, welding-plumbing, heavy-equipment, and agro-machinery. The College offers different paths of traineeships with several curriculum models, such as the 9+3 or 12+2 model (9 or 12 years education in school, with 3 or 2 years’ vocational training). The school is thus open to all kinds of graduates: Lower secondary graduates, high school graduates, and university graduates. Thanks to its long connection with Germany, the Lao German Technical College is the perfect place to instal the “Dual Cooperative Training” approach in Laos, which combines vocational education in schools or colleges with in-service training in companies.
In 2012 and 2013 the College was renovated and equipped with new machines by the German “KfW”, especially in the field of electrics. More and more companies in Laos, mainly in Vientiane, are cooperating with the College to use its high-level infrastructure and equipment to train their own staff within the schools facilities. Companies like Toyota and RMA train automotive mechanics for their subsidiaries in Laos; mining companies like Phu Bia Mining train heavy machinery mechanics for their mining business in Northern Laos, and the mining company MMG trains employees for welding; Nam Theun 2 Power, one of the biggest companies for hydropower plants, uses the electrics department at the College to do in-service training for their staff – just to name a few.
Involving international companies contributes to taking the vocational traineeships to a global level, which brings us back to the field of English. Within the Free-Trade Agreement of the ASEAN Economic Community launched in 2016, English is becoming increasingly significant as a common language within the ASEAN states – not only in politics or education in schools, but also in vocational education. Due to its strategic position in the mainland of South-East Asia, Laos has the chance to secure an integral part of supply chains throughout Asia now, which would be a huge contribution to the country’s economic development. To reach this goal, Laos needs English.
Text & Photos by J. Zeck