Education in LaosLaos 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Laos
Laos, officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, Laos also suffers from major poverty. To get a better understanding of the daily struggle in Laos, below are 10 facts about poverty in Laos.

10 Facts About Poverty in Laos

  1. According to Vision Launch Discover, 90 percent of Lao people lived off of $1 a day in the 1990s; now, this number is about $1.25. The other 10 percent live in Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos. Vientiane draws in the most wealth as the economic center of Laos.
  2. Laos is the most bombed country in history because of World War II. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bomb missions. Fifty people a year are killed from unexploded bombs left over from the war. These bombs scattered around the country are usually mistaken for toys and get tossed around before exploding; thus 40 percent of bomb deaths are children. Since 80 percent of people depend on their land to eat and live, people in Laos have no choice but to risk their lives working in fields covered in unexploded bombs.
  3. Forty-four percent, or 363,000, of Lao children under 5 years old are affected by stunting, a highly common condition in Laos. Stunting is usually caused by maternal undernutrition before and during pregnancy.
  4. More than 60 percent of children are malnourished and anemic. These conditions become potentially fatal due to the inadequate nutrition and lack of access to healthcare providers.
  5. Although improving, 23.2 percent or about 1.4 million Laos people are still living at or below the poverty line. Still, this is a major improvement from the 33.5 percent of the past.
  6. Agriculture is a key pillar in life in Laos, accounting for 80 percent of employment. The most important and produced crops are rice, vegetables, beans, sugarcane, starchy roots and tobacco.
  7. Education is scarce; therefore, people are forced to work in agriculture since there is little to no access to established schools and workplaces. According to United Nations Lao PDR, 70 percent of employed people work in agriculture and over a third of them don’t make enough to live sufficiently.
  8. Women receive less schooling but work longer hours than men; however, 70 percent of the illiterate population are women. According to UNESCO, more than 4,000 villages lack access to education.
  9. Two-thirds of people have a short supply of food and living essentials. During May and October of 2010, Laos faced what community leaders called the worst drought in living memory after Typhoon Ketsana in late 2009. This drought left 85,000 people affected with no seeds to harvest and no place to live. While poor climate is not unusual in Laos, this puts more burden onto the people that depend on their land to survive.
  10. For more than 20 years, the United States has donated more than $100 million to support UXO programs. This money is intended to clean up unexploded ordinances and give victims access to rehabilitation centers. Also, in February 2016, the United States and Laos signed to a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which will allow more opportunities and investments between the two nations.

Hardship and Progress

These top 10 facts about poverty in Laos illustrate the struggles and hardships that Laos people face daily. However, despite being one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and the entire world, about half a million of Laos people have been lifted out of poverty thus far.

Fortunately, the United States and Laos continue to rebuild a relationship with each other with a goal of saving lives and rebuilding a better country for the Laos people.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Laos
For many households of the indigenous Hmong people in Laos, girls are second on the priority list for attending school. Even some families with the desire and financial resources to send their daughters to school enforce restrictions on their education but not on their sons’. Education builds financially independent women and transforms them into critical thinkers. Such practices can also have the long-term effect of reducing poverty. The benefits of girls’ education in Laos reach out to the general community, not just to the girls.

A famous Hmong proverb translates to “Nine moons can’t compare to one sun; nine daughters can’t compare to one son.” It means that boys are expected to grow up to become breadwinners while women are seen as not being worth investing in. In part, this mindset leads to higher school enrollment rates for boys.

Exposure to Western Education Systems Influences Girls’ Education in Laos

Laotian history has been marked by the Pathet Lao’s rise to power in 1975. The communist regime began a genocide against the Hmong people in retaliation for aiding the United States with covert operations related to the Vietnam War. As a result, nearly one in 10 Hmong citizens fled to Thailand, later arriving in the United States. Education is especially valuable to the children of refugee parents because it offers a chance for them to seek a better life than what previous generations in Laos endured.

In the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, Kaozong N. Mouavangsou, the daughter of Hmong refugees, described the influence of Hmong culture even as she pursued higher education in the U.S. Family members encouraged her to attend a university close to home while her brothers got to choose schools farther away. They aimed to protect Mouavangsou from environments where she might get distracted from her studies by men who wanted to marry and have children.

When girls pursue higher levels of education, they are able to form their own opinions about how girls are treated in Hmong culture. Mouavangsou’s Western education gave her insight into the differences between the U.S. and Laos in terms of women’s roles in society. Such knowledge provided her an opportunity to choose which path in life was best for her, instead of prioritizing the needs of a potential husband and children.

International Organizations Work to End Sexual Harassment in Schools

Unfortunately, many girls in Laos do not receive the advanced schooling they need to forge such a path for themselves. In South Asia, approximately 100 million girls will drop out of school before getting a chance to pursue secondary education. Girls have a lower attendance rate in secondary education because those schools are located farther from home. This means it is harder for parents to guard against sexual harassment inflicted by male classmates.

In response to such issues, UNICEF began a project in collaboration with Plan International, CARE, U.N. Women and Girl Guides to make secondary schools safer environments for girls. The project created a chatbot where boys and girls can share their ideas about how to end violence. This forum engages a demographic of people who might have peers that are either the aggressor or the ones being harassed.

In addition to UNICEF’s chatbot, more plans are being implemented to help make girls’ education in Laos more accessible. Some schools are offering flexible hours to accommodate when girls can attend classes. Others are promoting an atmosphere free of gender-based violence and awarding scholarships to make the cost of education more affordable. Overall, the gender disparity in the Laotian education system dropped from 4 percent in 2008 to less than 2 percent in 2010.

Many issues, such as sexual harassment, gender inequality and poverty are interdependent upon one another. With that in mind, girls’ education in Laos can help the whole of Hmong society as well as provide girls with greater well-being.

– Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr