Education opportunities expand in northern Lao PDR
By Shane Powell
March 27, 2009, Ban Phonesavang, Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR – 11-year-old Sengthiene wants to be a teacher when she gets older. The ethnic Khmu girl from the remote village of Phonesavang in northern Lao PDR says she’s suddenly excited about school and studying.
Her inspiration comes from the new school building in her village. She’s already caught a glimpse of the new desks and blackboards, the books, the pump outside providing clean water and the separate toilets for boys and girls.
“I’ve never seen a school like this,” she says, standing in front of the new building with Lao and Japanese flags in each hand. “If I can work in a place like this, I’d like to be a teacher someday.”
This morning Sengthiene has joined her classmates, Lao dignitaries, UNICEF staff and more than 60 guests from the AEON Company Group of Japan. They have assembled for a traditional Lao candle-lighting ceremony and a mix of Japanese and Lao dance and music performances marking the inauguration of a new batch of newly built schools in northern Lao PDR. The schools are constructed under the supervision of UNICEF with funds donated by the Japanese retailing company AEON and the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU).
“AEON is very happy to be able to deliver a better future to the schoolchildren of this village,” said Akihiko Harada, AEON Chairman of the 1% Club. “We hope that local people and authorities will work together to protect and maintain the school, so that children will continue coming to school regularly.”
The new schools are part of a three-year project aimed at improving the quality of and access to basic education that supports the Ministry of Education’s Schools of Quality policy. Since 2007, AEON support via UNICEF has financed construction of 62 schools in Xieng Khouang and Luang Prabang provinces. A total of 100 schools are planned by the end of the project.
“This is a partnership between the school, education authorities, the community and children,” said Laila Ismail Khan, UNICEF’s representative to the Lao PDR, during an interview with a youth reporter from the provincial radio station. “These partnerships will help to bring quality education to more of the country.”
The project aims to ensure each new school is designed with sufficient space for group work in class, along with quality desks and other materials, installation of a safe water source, and separate toilets for boys and girls. The support also helps train teachers to use child-centred teaching and learning approaches, with a focus on multi-grade teaching and hygiene education.
The alliance between AEON and the Japan committee for UNICEF began in 2000, and, in addition to the schools in the Lao PDR, has resulted in the construction of 149 schools in Cambodia and 57 in Nepal. The company raises funds from customers and employees and donates a percentage of its yearly profits. The Japan committee for UNICEF then matches the contribution with other donations from the public.