Evolution of Education in Laos

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VIENTIANE, Laos – The educational system in Laos has undergone evolution and reorganization since the 18th century. Originally established as a way to give knowledge to Lao boys through Buddhist teaching, the educational system has changed to include more students, more educational opportunities and more levels of schooling.

Today, the Ministry of Education and Sports, the governing body of education in Laos, is working to transform education even more to improve accessibility and literacy rates.

Originally, the Buddhist way of teaching was used in Laos because it had a written language. No other group in Laos had a formal script to teach. Boys would attend the Buddhist schools to learn the practices of Buddhism as well as reading, writing, arithmetic and sciences.

When Laos was colonized by France, it adopted the French educational system. Although it stayed in place for a while, this system was not favorable for the Lao population as a whole. Education was only meant for members of the upper class, leaving citizens experiencing poverty without the chance to use education as a catalyst for social mobility.

In 1975, the government made changes to the educational system to improve accessibility.

However, traditions are difficult to break and children in rural areas still do not attend school or drop-out at a very young age. Children in rural areas are often expected to work on their families’ farms during school hours, and schools are often far away in these areas.

Schools are more prevalent in urban areas with children enrolled in primary schools. But, drop-out rates are very high at the secondary level.

Most of the pupils that complete the secondary level of education are children planning to attend tertiary education.

Aside from traditions of drop-out rates and unequal access, the greatest problem that the Laotian educational system faces is an extreme lack of teachers.

Teachers are not paid well in Laos. In 2013, the entire country experienced budget cuts to avoid plummeting into a dangerous nationwide financial crisis. Teachers were no exception.

“We don’t know what we will get for the month. We haven’t seen it yet,” said an anonymous teacher. “For crying out loud, we haven’t gotten paid for almost three months.”

Many trained teachers choose to move out of Laos for better pay and more suitable teaching environments.

Under the constantly evolving educational system, the teaching situation is improving. In 2000, 76.7 percent of the teachers working in Laos were adequately trained. In 2010, the percentage rose to 95.6.

The quality of education is also rising with the establishment of more private schools and colleges.

The National University of Laos was established in 1996 and is still the only national university in the country.

The Ministry of Education and Sports hopes that the educational system in Laos will continue to change for the better. By seeking teachers trained at the primary level, especially those trained to teach English, the ministry hopes to improve the quality of education.

The traditional attitude of complete education only being available to those in the upper class of urban areas must change.

Emily Walthouse

Sources: Classbase, Lao Education Opportunities Trust, Maps of World, The Nation, NationMaster, Radio Free Asia, Trading Economics
Photo: Radio Free Asia

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Emily Walthouse

Emily is a writer at BORGEN Magazine.

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