Primary Education in Laos

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The primary education cycle in Lao PDR is five years. MOE has overall responsibility for coordination, planning, policy development and quality control for formal education while management of functional responsibilities is distributed geographically to 18 PES offices and 135 DEBs. At the village level the village head, village school management committee, and the school principal are directly responsible for the operation and maintenance of schools in more than 8,000 villages.

The human resources development Medium-Term Program 1997-2000, produced by the SPC of Lao PDR in May 1997, provided a general framework for identifying priorities for education. For primary education MOE has the following immediate priorities:

  • universal primary education with quality improvements;
  • increased access to education in rural and ethnic minority areas;
  • eradication of illiteracy;
  • improved internal efficiency of schooling;
  • improved professional training and academic status of teachers;
  • improved management and control of education to ensure quality.

The current Education Sector Development Plan (MOE, 1995c) provides a planning framework for MOE. It outlines a long-term reform agenda and provides broad policy themes to 2020, in accordance with general Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) planning.

The major medium-term priority is to improve quality in primary and lower secondary education by improving internal efficiency and student achievement. To achieve this, the current plan calls for revision of the school curricula, textbooks and instructional materials together with a reorganization and reform of teacher training and pedagogical support services. Other components of the current Plan include:

  • standardization of preservice teacher training;
  • improved access to educational services through large-scale school infrastructure initiative;
  • selective expansion of adult literacy and vocational educational programs, particularly for girls, women and minorities;
  • strengthening of educational planning and management at central, provincial and district levels;
  • enhanced planning capacity, co-ordination and co-operation with MOE and external agencies.

Activities are currently underway in all of these areas, assisted in most cases by funding from international donors and agencies. Policy targets (MOE, 1995c) have been set for many activities, for example, a primary repetition rate of 14 percent by the year 2000; however, there is no evaluation mechanism in place to monitor progress towards targets. Likewise, a target has been set to restructure administration and management and to redistribute resources equitably among provinces and districts but there appears to be no framework nor guidelines on how to achieve these targets.

Teacher training for primary school occurs at TTCs. There is also a Teacher Development Center (TDC) established as part of the ADB-supported Education Quality Improvement Project to improve the quality of both pre- and in-service training.

An added complexity to improving the quality and relevance of primary education in Lao PDR arises from the multiple purposes of primary education and the linguistic variability of target groups. Graduation of local people is needed for future supply of teachers and other skilled workers but also to improve the productivity of subsistence farmers. The former requires an academic approach linked to transition to secondary school, while the latter requires a greater focus on basic technology and applied science. In the context of poor subsistence farming communities, literacy and numeracy as the sole aims of primary education are not enough, particularly among ethnic minorities where Lao is not the first language and where their own language has no written form. In such communities there is a need to introduce content of primary education that will directly improve their income and living condition.