Cultivating educational research in Lao PDR : For a better future?

Abstract: This thesis looks at the introduction of educational action research as part of the national education reforms in Lao PDR. National policies on education emphasise concepts such as ‘education for all’ and ‘student-centred education’ taken from the globalised education reform agenda. Action research became a tool to implement the new pedagogy of student-centred education that was labelled ‘the five-pointed star’. The thesis contributes to the field of global policy studies. It combines global and contextual aspects in order to analyse how action research travelled from policy to practice. This process was part of a Lao national education reform that developed after the introduction of the new economic mechanism, when the previous socialist planned-economy system was replaced by a globalised market-oriented system. Data were collected from national policy documents, international donor documents, instructional material, and interviews with Lao educators involved with action research in different ways. Furthermore, we carried out action research as part of our own teaching duties in Lao PDR, which were subsequently documented and analysed. In this study of educational reform in Lao PDR we have found that an educational approach like action research that is introduced as part of a taken-for-granted global agenda of change, is reduced to a technical rationality and practices that resemble previous experiences. Our findings are explained from the theoretical perspectives of hidden policy ensembles and policy backlashes. Hidden policy ensembles reduce action research to a technical rationality due to their alien cultural and social connections that are not brought into the open at the reform arena. Policy backlashes become a way for practitioners to create meaning based on previous contextual practices, conceptions, and discourses as a consequence of the technical rationality created by the hidden policy ensembles and the use of the cascade model. The thesis concludes with an outline of a possible future educational development in the form of a critical and educative action research network in Lao PDR that is inspired by cross-cultural dialogue, a critical pedagogy of place, and our own action research experiences.