Almost a third of Laos’ population is under 14 years old, according to the CIA World Factbook. With a median age of 22, this young, vibrant generation will one day be the civil servants and business leaders of Laos.

This is Laos’ future generation, one that Minister of Education Sengdeuane Lachanthaboune hopes will become “good, honourable, healthy and high-knowledge citizens”. That makes this a crucial time for the the Ministry of Education to transform the educational landscape in Laos and improve the country’s human capital.

GovInsider caught up with Lachanthaboune to learn about the what the Ministry of Education is doing to improve access to education in rural areas, reduce school dropouts, and improve student literacy.

Improving teacher quality

65% of Laos’ population live in rural areas, according to the World Bank Development Indicator report. Improving the quality of education in rural areas is a priority for Lachanthaboune.

The difference between rural and urban teachers in Laos is stark, says Lachanthaboune. Teachers in rural areas tend to lack experience and some work for free, while the best ones go to the cities. “Teachers in remote areas are mainly new teachers, with low experience and lower education qualifications than teachers in urban areas,” she says.

The Ministry of Education and Sports wants to post more experienced and well-trained teachers to rural areas. Teacher deployment exercises will prioritise the areas that face the largest shortage of talent, the Minister explains. “The Ministry of Education and Sports is providing the opportunity [to] remotely located teachers to upgrade their qualifications by training them at the end of the school year,” Lachanthaboune adds.

Meanwhile, Thailand is addressing this problem by providing online training to teachers in rural areas. Each is given 10,000 baht (US$300) worth of training credits, which they can use to access over 700 online courses.

And to reduce school dropout rates, the Ministry is creating boarding schools for “ethnic and disadvantaged children in each province”, she says. There is also a campaign to raise awareness among students and parents to encourage students to stay in school. This campaign reaches out to the Village and District Education Development Committees as well as local student-parent associations to increase impact.

Start them young

A UNDP report notes that Laotian primary students have a low school survival rate as most children drop out in the first year or don’t progress to the next level. The report reveals that one crucial reason is the lack of readiness for school.

To give Laotian toddlers a headstart, the Ministry is placing stronger emphasis on the pre-school curriculum. “The Ministry will prioritise resources to preschool and primary education levels, focusing on building children’s skills in reading and writing Lao language, as well as numeracy skills,” Lachanthaboune explains.

The Ministry is also constructing pre-primary classrooms, training teachers in early childhood education, and building capacity among pre-school educators as part of this project. This initiative is run in conjunction with the World Bank, which will provide aid to construct over 250 pre-primary classrooms and pilot community child development programmes for 3 to 4-year-olds in 48 locations.

Neighbouring Cambodia is taking a similar approach. The education system currently emphasises primary school education, with only a few community preschools to cater to toddlers, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Education. The ministry hopes to have all 5-year-olds enrolled in school by 2030, reports the Phnom Penh Post. To do this, it is focusing on improving the standards of community-based preschools and kindergartens, and increasing teachers’ salaries, the report said.

Technology is becoming more ubiquitous in schools all over the world, but its use in Laos’ classrooms is hindered by two main factors: “funding limitations and teacher’s technical ability”, Lachanthaboune explains. The Education Ministry has included ICT as part of the national curriculum to teach teachers and students how to use computers, and set up ICT training centres in all 18 provinces in the country.

The government has also developed online teaching materials, and developed online teaching-learning and school management systems to help schools modernise their ways of working, the Minister adds.

Most of the world realises the importance of education – but the challenge is to bring quality education to the people. Laos wants to start them early, and start them right.