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Our Teachers, Our Researchers: Three Insights from Teachers in Lao PDR on Co-Implementing Education Research

12 Oct 2022
Laos Data Must Speak Blog

Authors: H.E. Dr. Phouth Simmalavong, Minister of Education, Ministry of Education and Sports Lao PDR; Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative Lao PDR; Bo Viktor Nylund, Director, UNICEF Innocenti

Research methods traditionally separate data collectors from research participants. In educational research, those participants are often teachers. However, emerging methods are employing innovative techniques in which teachers play an active role in evidence generation. The learning environment is shaped by teachers, making them key actors within education systems. Co-implementing research with teachers could benefit the integration of evidence into practice and help answer key research questions.

In Lao PDR, a country where student performance varies across districts and schools, the Ministry of Education and Sports (the Ministry) is piloting putting schools and teachers at the centre of evidence-generation. This effort contributes to the Ministry’s bid to meet SDG 4 (i.e., inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all). The Ministry believes that teachers, being the implementers of education programmes and policies, should also be given the chance to actively take part in generating evidence.



Involving teachers in the Data Must Speak Research:

The Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF Lao PDR Country Office, and UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight co-created and co-implemented the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance Research, a mixed method research initiative to understand what makes schools effective and scale grassroot solutions to improve education outcomes across Lao PDR. Data Must Speak is an opportunity to design research methods that actively involves teachers and all other school-level stakeholders.

During a technical workshop in Vientiane in October 2020, representatives from different departments at the Ministry, the National University of Laos, and UNICEF designed and reviewed both the methodology and instruments for the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research. Interestingly, instead of hiring external enumerators, the Ministry turned to 60 teachers in training from their local teacher training colleges to collect data that will help unpack factors influencing school performance in the country. Those soon-to-be-teachers, now also researchers, received a three-day training on using digital tools, such as smartphones and tablets, to collect and record data. They also received ethics training on how to appropriately engage with research participants. They were later sent into the field to interview students, teachers, and school leaders across 120 primary schools in eight provinces: Bokeo, Champasak, Houaphanh, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Vientiane Province, Vientiane and Xieng Khouang.


What we have learned:

A few months ago, those 60 teachers-turned-researchers were tasked with collecting data from schools across the country. They later shared their experiences and feedback on this new, exciting exercise. Their insights on involving teachers in the research implementation are outlined below:


1. It fosters teacher engagement as they participate in how the research is both designed and implemented. Co-implementing education research with teachers goes beyond engaging them through consultation. It provides them with concrete opportunities to contribute to and participate in decisions related to education programmes and policies. In the Data Must Speak research, teachers are involved from the outset, they help the research team make decisions on the research design, methodologies, and data collection instruments. Moreover,

“teachers bring great insight and perspective through their hands-on experience with teaching students,”

as one of the teachers involved in the research highlighted.


2. It promotes ownership and helps ensure follow-up actions based on research findings. Having teachers collect education data ensures that research outputs, will later be understood, used, and valued by end-users, particularly the teachers themselves. Additionally, it encourages teachers to take ownership of education data, programmes and policies.

“I think it is important that teachers are involved in studies on education because it will help them get a better understanding of the different challenges to effective education and help identify solutions,”

said one of the teachers who collected data for the research.


3. It enriches teachers’ understanding of education issues. When teachers take part in education research, they are further exposed to the realities and problems across the education system. This helps them better understand the interconnection between factors influencing school performance. More importantly, it grounds them as they implement context-specific solutions to problems in their classrooms. One of the soon-to-be-teachers underlined:

“As part of this study, I got to see many different types of schools all over the country, from schools in the Northern parts of the country to the Southern provinces, all of which have their own approaches to teaching. The experience was enlightening, and I try to pick out the best practices from these schools and keep them in mind so that I can implement them and become a better teacher in the future.”

When reflecting on their life experiences people often speak of the influence their teachers had on them. Not only do teachers play a fundamental role in their students’ learning, but they also serve as the backbone of education systems. At their best, teachers transform their understanding of the key factors of school effectiveness into the best learning outcomes for their students. The Data Must Speak research strives to create the space for teachers to be researchers, respondents, and beneficiaries all at once.


What’s next?

The Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research in Lao PDR is progressing well amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic. Quantitative data collection was completed in 2021 in more than 120 schools. The research team, together with the Ministry, finalized the additional qualitative data collection in 12 schools in May 2022 in accordance with all national and local rules and regulations. Stay tuned for preliminary findings coming soon.

The DMS Research is a multi-stage mixed-method initiative, co-created and co-implemented with ministries of education. It aims to generate knowledge about the positive deviant practices and behaviours of schools performing comparatively better considering their contexts. It also seeks to unravel practical lessons about ‘what works’ and how national policymakers and the broader international community can scale up these grassroots solutions. It is currently carried out in 14 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the support of the European Union, Jacobs Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, IDRC/GPE KIX, NORAD and Schools2030.

For more information on the Data Must Speak Positive Deviance Research, please contact: