In recent years, Lao PDR has made impressive progress in expanding access to education at all levels.
- The net enrollment rate for primary schooling has climbed from 65% in 1990 to 98% in 2014.
- Lao PDR has met most MDGs in education, particularly MDG 2 (Achieve Universal Primary Education) and MDG 3 (Gender Equality).
However, the country still faces persistent problems related to the significant number of children remaining out of school or leaving primary school early. Moreover, many children who remain in school show very low levels of reading ability and learning.
- In 2012, the early grade drop out rate for grade 1 was 11%.
- Of students who speak Lao at home, 30% of 2nd graders could not read one word. This proportion was 54% for students who do not speak Lao at home.
Both of these groups (out of school children and low performers) have similar backgrounds.
- Poor socioeconomic backgrounds and living in rural/remote areas
- Non Lao-Tai ethnic groups
- Girls, who start leaving school around age 10-11
The reasons behind these trends are related both to physical barriers to school attendance and perceptions of education.
- 30-40% of those leaving school early live in a village where schools do not offer grade 4 and grade 5
- Some have perceptions that that quality of education is low or lacks relevance
- Same factors that drive dropout are associated with low early grade reading ability and low performance in standardized tests
- Other factors include an insufficient supply of schools or teachers, and both the direct and indirect costs of attendance (school fees and uniforms as well as income lost without children contributing to the household economy)
How to reduce early grade drop-out and improve general student performance? Three main priority areas are recommended for action.
- Focus on learning outcomes, especially early grade reading ability, by improving the teaching methodology and classroom practices. This should also include addressing issues surrounding school readiness, such as nutrition and language.
- Increase the demand for education for those who perceive education to have a low value. This includes preventing late enrollment by educating parents on the right age to enroll, increasing school safety, examining the possibility of scholarships and stipends, and increasing the relevance of education for rural and ethnic populations.
- Continue to increase and improve the number and quality of schools by providing schools with qualified teachers in rural areas and ensuring school materials are available and used properly.