Students throughout Lao PDR marked the start of the new school semester with excitement and joy after many months away from the classroom and their friends.
It was early in the morning but the Nong Ping Primary School in Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR, is already bustling with activity. The students were bursting with energy amassed over the summer break, which was finally given expression once they saw the faces of their friends. Immediately, they ran up to greet and hug each other.
As the clock finally struck eight, the sound of a bell rang across the school. The students quickly lined up in neat rows in front of the Lao flag in the middle of the school yard. Every Monday morning, Lao schools mark the beginning of the week with a flag raising ceremony. As the ceremony concluded, the children cheered and hurried to their classes, eager to start their lessons. It was the first day of the new school semester.
“I feel very happy to be back in school because it’s fun here! I missed my friends a lot and I am really excited to see and get to play with them again,” said Malina
This was also how ten-year-old, Malina Sivongxay, alongside thousands of other students throughout Lao PDR, started her first day back in school. This year, Malina is studying in fifth grade at the Nong Ping Primary School.
Her favourite subject is mathematics and she says that she is eager to get to learn it again in the classroom.
While Malina is still somewhat worried about COVID-19, she also knows how to keep herself safe from the virus, including wearing a face mask and regularly washing her hands with soap and water or with alcohol gel in public areas.
Malina and her fellow students are not the only ones excited to be back in school. The Teachers are too.
“It’s great to see so many students back in our school and the faces of my colleagues again. I’m glad that I could resume teaching my class again for the new semester,” said Ms. Lahtao Sithipanya, Vice Principal of the Nong Ping Primary School and Malina’s fifth grade teacher. Having taught at the school for a decade, she has also directly witnessed the unprecedented level of disruption caused by COVID-19 on the education and well-being of children in Lao PDR.
During school closures, we tried implementing online learning with our students, but because not all of them have access to internet connection, some had to drop by the school to get their assignments. There is a clear gap between the effectiveness of in-person teaching and learning compared to the online method we used during school closures.
While COVID-19 cases have remained stable in the country for some time, schools are still taking precautions to ensure the safety of their students and teachers for the new semester. “We have the children and teachers wear face masks and ensure that alcohol gel dispensers are readily available throughout the school. We also have a handwashing activity that we do after every class recess and the school has also ramped up our regular cleaning and disinfection around the school premises,” said Ms. Lahtao.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Health and development partners like the European Union and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), UNICEF is helping ensure that schools around Lao PDR can safely reopen for students and teachers, including providing support on the vaccination of teachers against COVID-19, provision of hygiene supplies to schools and communication activities to raise awareness around the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination and protective measures against the virus.