Secondary Education in Laos

While both primary and postsecondary education have been given significant donor attention, the intervening link, secondary education, has been given less attention. This has resulted in a distorted profile of education in Lao PDR. If the strengths now being introduced at the primary level are to eventually benefit postsecondary education through an increased availability of better qualified students, there will need to be a more balanced development of the system with additional attention given to the middle years. One of the main goals for education development during the next five-year plan period is greater balance in its education system.


The Government of the Lao PDR has made notable progress in expanding access to secondary education, raising the minimum qualifications for teaching at the secondary level, improving utilization of teachers by raising student/teacher ratios, and better controlling costs. The central task during the next five-year plan period is to continue and persevere in the course that has already been started.

While MOE has made significant headway in addressing the issues confronting secondary education, this level has not been the main priority within educational development in Lao PDR over the last decade. Rather, priority, quite appropriately has gone to development of the primary subsector and consolidation and strengthening of higher education.

The analysis of secondary education from ADB yields no surprises. The actions needed to strengthen secondary education over the next decade are essentially the same actions identified in virtually every education study over the last 15 years. However, MOE can take pride in having raised the level at which those issues can now be addressed through its accomplishments during the current fiveyear plan. Yet major challenges still remain.

Secondary education is organized into a three-year lower secondary cycle followed by a three-year upper secondary cycle. Students who complete lower secondary can leave school and join the workforce, continue to upper secondary, or enter a three-year teacher training course which prepares them to teach at the primary and junior secondary levels. Students completing upper secondary can join the workforce, continue their education at NUOL, continue their university studies abroad, enter a one-year teacher training program which would prepare them to teach at the primary or lower secondary level, or enter a teacher training program that would prepare them to teach at the upper secondary level.

Few students achieve a full six years of secondary education. Approximately 62 of every 100 school-age children start first grade and, of those 62, about 31 will complete the primary cycle and continue into lower secondary. Three years later, 14 of these students will enter upper secondary school. About five will graduate. Fewer than two of every 100 children will go on to postsecondary education.

Organization Structure

Formal responsibility for secondary education is shared by the central MOE and the PESs, with some duties allocated to DEBs and local communities. The Party at the national, provincial and district levels also has a significant influence on the actual operation of the education system. Endorsement of candidates for key positions at each level is an important factor in personnel selection and in selection of quota students. Educational planning and program implementation by MOE and PES operates in conjunction with input from the Party.

Programmatic Concerns

MOE officials are aware of the problems of their education system. They collect considerable data and participate in a continuing series of studies commissioned by the international organizations. The challenge is not in further elaborating the problems that confront the system (though that may still be useful) but in identifying solutions that are viable within the economic and political constraints under which the country operates. Solving one problem often creates new ones. While government has done much to improve the education system through the formulation of policy, the urgent need now is to give greater attention to implementation of those policies on a national basis.

Students and Teachers

Secondary education is the fastest growing component of the education system. Between 1995/96 and 1996/97 new enrollment in primary school increased 3.8 percent while new enrollment in lower secondary increased by 15.5 percent and in upper secondary by 13.4 percent. Such rapid growth has put pressure on facilities, teacher supply, and the availability of instructional materials.