'Schools of Quality' reach under-served rural children in Lao PDR
UNICEF’s equity-based approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable children and families with cost-effective interventions for sustainable progress. Here is one in a series of stories that make the case for equity.By Martha Tattersall
LUANG PRABANG, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 27 July 2011 – Sipai, 10, works diligently at her desk in a fifth-grade classroom in Long Lao village, located 30 minutes outside the beautiful, historic city of Luang Prabang in northern Lao PDR. Outside, rugged mountains encircle the village and rise above the red earth.
Even before the start of the school day, Sipai has been busy helping her family with household tasks. “I get up about 4 a.m.,” she says. “I steam the sticky rice, do my reading, collect water, wash the dishes and then take a shower and prepare for school.”
In the afternoon, Sipai fetches water from the nearby river, washes the dishes and cleans the house. In Lao PDR, collecting water primarily falls to women and girls, particularly in rural and highland areas.
Such is the reality of life for families in Long Lao. Yet unlike many other rural villages in northern Lao PDR, all of Long Lao’s children attend the local school.
Positive impact on education
Sipai’s school provides education up to grade five, while many others in Lao PDR have only one or two classrooms and offer just two or three grades of primary schooling. Completion rates to grade five and transition onto secondary school are also particularly low in much of the country.
This used to be the case in Long Lao, but a UNICEF-supported government strategy known as ‘Schools of Quality’ is having a positive impact. The strategy aims to improve the quality of primary education and access to primary schools in Lao PDR.
The village school in Long Lao is one of over 1,600 schools applying the Schools of Quality approach.
Thanks to this programme, Long Lao Primary School has a new building where all five grades can be taught. In addition, the school has teaching and learning kits, and training has been provided for the school director, teachers and other members of the community.
One of the key characteristics of the Schools of Quality model is community involvement in school life. Where the programme is in place, village committees promote universal primary school enrolment, regular attendance and quality teaching and learning.
Close cooperation with families in the community also encourages them to support learning in the home.
Students take pride in school
“The main change has been to involve the whole village in the school’s development,” says Long Lao Primary School Director Khamsy Sengsoulivanh. “Previously, the village or the chief of the village would support the school only when a request was made to them…. Now, the villagers come together with the school director, teachers and students, and they assess what is needed. A plan is then put in place.”
Such inclusion extends to the classroom, fostering a sense of pride among the children.
“We make sure all students feel included and encourage them to help each other in the classroom,” notes Mr. Khamsy. “The students and schoolteachers feel like they are the owners of the school now.”
While Sipai and her classmates reap the benefits of this approach, many others across Lao PDR are missing out on their right to education. Indicators reveal that 1 in 10 Lao children never attend primary school or receive any formal schooling. The disparity is particularly stark between rural and urban areas, and among different ethnic groups.
With UNICEF’s support, the government hopes to reach all of Lao PDR’s nearly 9,000 primary school with the Schools of Quality model; it has also asked UNICEF to support piloting the approach in secondary schools. Although the nearest secondary school is a one-hour walk from her village, Sipai looks forward to continuing her education there.
“I want to be a nurse,” she says. “I will live here, because if I leave, I will miss my parents. I will stay to take care of them.”
A case study on rights-based education reform in Lao PDR
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