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Rural teacher aims high for his students
Publication Date : 10-10-2013
Most new graduates do not want to return to the countryside, but not Soukmixay who wants to improve education in his hometown
English lessons have become common in city schools and the language is used by students to communicate with foreigners or explore the internet, but pupils at one remote school in Xayaboury province are also learning English even though there are no English books to read or foreigners to talk to.
There are few facilities at Natoung village lower secondary school in Paklai district, where the school is made of bamboo. Despite these challenges a volunteer English teacher, Soukmixay Thammavong, believes his knowledge of English will benefit his students in the future.
He has taught there for more than three years and is one of 10 teachers at the school, teaching English to 92 students.
Growing up in the same village Soukmixay was an outstanding student who won a scholarship to attend Ban Kern teacher training college in Vientiane province, where he took a three year degree course in English.
As a country man living in the city he faced a lot of difficulties adapting to an urban lifestyle.
“I worked at a restaurant and studied at the same time. Life as a student in Vientiane was not easy at all, especially for those who came from humble backgrounds like me,” he said.
But no matter how tough the situation was, he was able to get through it and become one of the best students in his class.
Soukmixay accumulated sufficiently high marks to be accepted for a bachelor's degree at the National University of Laos. But, unfortunately, soon after graduating he had to hurry home to be with his sick father.
Back in his village he was cut off from all connections, no telephone, no internet and no car, so he was unable to continue his studies.
“I feel sad that I didn't get this news until it was too late. Poor communication cost me a higher education,” he said.
But Soukmixay did not give up. He volunteered as a teacher, through which he planned to use his knowledge and experience especially his ability in English to benefit the young people in his village.
“My determination is to create a better future for these youngsters whilst enriching my own life. They need help with their education. No matter how far they have to go to attend school they should never give up. This has empowered me to continue teaching,” he said.
The road from the nearest town to the village can only be travelled on by tractor or on foot. It takes about half a day to get from the village to the school and some of the students have chosen to live on campus.
The school is totally cut off from the outside world in terms of connections. This is one of the main reasons why some teachers choose not to work in the countryside.
A teacher shortage in rural areas has created a major challenge for the government.
Some teachers take two or three classes at the same time and, due to a number of factors, the government struggles to pay their salaries on time.
Some only get paid every three to five months. Then they may have to spend some of their meagre earnings on getting to the place where they can collect their salary.
Fortunately they are able to make a living and continue teaching because of support from villagers and the parents of their students, who share their food with the teachers.
Soukmixay is in the same situation as the other teachers who have to rely heavily on the villagers to supply food and meals in exchange for lessons for their children.
Despite the many obstacles he is confronting, Soukmixay expects to gain more experience so that he can become a government employee soon.
After three years of teaching he has found that rural teachers lack teaching aids, especially knowledge of information technology, which makes it harder for them to match the standards in other countries.
Soukmixay says information technology and English skills are the key factors for a modern education.
“If we understand English we can communicate effectively with foreigners and broaden our knowledge through technology, the internet for instance, so we can hook up with the outside world,” he said.
“Most of my students as well as myself have no opportunity to practise our English with foreigners or use it in other ways because our school is so far from a town and we don't have telephones or the internet.”
But he believes that one day his students will put their education to good use and will not regret the time they spend in class.