7 Facts About Education in Laos
Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia and is one of the five remaining communist countries in the world. Laos is also one of the poorest countries in the region with a GDP of about $18.8 billion in 2021. In comparison, Vietnam’s GDP stood at about $366 billion and Thailand’s GDP stood at about $506 billion. Poverty in Laos is evident in the nation’s struggling education system. Factors such as cost, accessibility and traditional beliefs have prevented children from enrolling in school. However, education in Laos has improved in recent times due to domestic changes and international help. These interventions have focused on building a better education system in Laos and getting more children into school.
7 Facts About Education in Laos
- High Dropout Rates. Laos’ education system sees a high number of dropouts, particularly at lower levels of education. This means very few reach upper secondary education levels. Only 81.9% of children complete their primary education, with 15% going on to pursue lower secondary education and just 3% progressing to upper secondary levels.
- Low Enrollment Rate in Rural Areas. Only 70% of children attend school in rural areas compared to 84% in the urban population. The low enrollment rate in rural areas is largely due to poor road access. Many children live in isolated, mountainous areas. As a result, traveling to the nearest schools is an almost impossible endeavor. Furthermore, parents in the rural population are typically low-income earners who can hardly afford the costs of education. They prefer to have their children work and earn income for the family. Another issue is the disproportionate oversupply of Laotian and international teachers in urban areas, which leaves many rural areas with few teachers.
- Gender-based Enrollment Disparity. Laos’ education system has a clear issue regarding gender equity and equality. There is a higher number of enrolled male children compared to female children. The enrollment rates at the primary education level for boys and girls are 75% and 71% respectively. At the secondary level, the gap is slightly wider, with 36% for boys and 31% for girls. This disparity is mainly due to the old-fashioned values that many Laotian families hold. Several families expect girls to shoulder the burden of caretaking and household chores. Hence, female education is not prioritized.
- Four-part Education Structure. Laos’ education system consists of four stages: early childhood education, general education, technical and vocational education and higher education. The enrollment rates drop significantly as the levels go higher. Primary enrollment, which also falls under general education, stands at 97%. In contrast, enrollment at the upper secondary level is just 3%. This results in most Laotian children failing to achieve their full scholarly potential.
- Inadequate Education Budget. Despite the struggles of the education system in Laos, the government does not prioritize funding and spending on the education sector. Only 3.3% of Laos’ total GDP goes into education — one of the lowest rates globally. Much of the spending, both domestically and from international aid, goes toward fighting poverty in Laos by providing basic needs such as food, water and shelter.
- Improved Education System and Government Reforms. Governmental reforms and policy changes have helped improve the quality of education and enrollment through the years. The education reforms of 2006 to 2015 sought to improve educational quality and align the education system with international standards. For example, these reforms focused on building more schools in rural areas to facilitate accessibility for children in rural Laos. Reforms have significantly increased enrollment. From 1975 to 1976, there were just 146 enrolled children in upper secondary education. From 2005 to 2006, the number of enrolled children increased to 45,198, demonstrating the effectiveness of the reforms.
- International Aid Impact. International aid has been vital in improving the quality of education in Laos. A Save the Children program aimed to “improve the quality of learning for children in Laos.” With $8 million in funding, the program enabled 3,000 children to attend primary school in 2012. In 2021, the World Bank, supported by other nations, announced funding of $47 million “aimed at improving preschool and primary education performance and enhancing education systems nationwide.”
The Promise of Progress
While dropout rates and low higher education attainment still stand as issues, Laos’ education system has seen significant progress over the years. Enrollment rates are steadily rising and the quality of education is improving. All of these are indications of a promising future for Laos’ education system.
– Max Steventon