In Lao PDR, the number of Out of School Children(OOSC) remains 50,332 as of 2018. Most of them live in remote areas where the infrastructure is weak and the poverty rate is high. The research objective in this paper is divided into two. First, to examine the current state of OOSC and its cause in Lao PDR. The second, to investigate to what extent the seven principles of the ASEAN Declaration established by UNESCO have been fulfilled. As the state, conditions and causes are predicted to be different from provinces within the country, this paper focuses on the regional disparity based on the statistical data and field research. As for the theoretical approach, the seven principles are as follows, 1)Inclusivity, 2)Equity, 3)Accessibility, 4)Continuity, 5)Quality, 6) Flexibility, 7) Sustainability. In this paper, these principles are organized into four categories under the agreement of a UNESCO official in Bangkok, namely, 1)Inclusivity, 2)Accessibility and 3)Equity are grouped as “access” to education, 4)Continuity and 7)Sustainability are grouped as “continuity”. “Quality” and “flexibility” are considered as independent categories.
A mixed research methodology was adopted for the conduct of this research. Quantitative data was collected from the national census, education statistics, and through interviews. Education index data, such as the school attendance rate, survival rate, and dropout rate reported by each province were analyzed to assess the educational access and continuity as well as the quality.
To better understand the impact at local level, qualitative interviews were conducted, by the author from 2014-2019, with administrators and stakeholders who are involved in OOSC and its educational assistance activities or programs. Regarding the administrators, formal interviews were implemented by a UNESCO official, staffs at International NGOs, the Provincial Department of Labor and Social Welfare and Department of Education. The affiliations of the stakeholders varied across different research sites, but they are generally school authorities, teachers and villagers. The research field was divided into three regions of Lao PDR, namely, the north, central, and south regions where the author made intermittent visits.
So far, the view of previous research tends to observe the countrywide perspective. However, as current research reported, there are huge regional disparities among provinces in terms of survival rates, completing school rates, drop out and repetition rates, therefore, a focus on regional disparities is needed.
Result and Finding
Responding to the first question, the most disadvantaged group, other than girls, ethnic minority and children from poor families, is children with special needs. The total number is unknown, but in the field research, it was found that only two special education schools are available for disabled children in the entire country and this situation prevents uncountable children from attending schools.
Regarding the second question, among the four categories, only “flexibility”, which guarantees different pathways of learning styles for marginalized or disadvantaged groups, was fulfilled in Lao PDR. Many organizations have contributed to eliminate OOSC in ASEAN region. The reason why flexibility was achieved was because the assisting organizations utilized the budget from other sectors, such as non-formal and vocational sectors, instead of the general education sector which has suffered severe budget shortages.
However, other principles such as “accessibility”, “continuity”, and “quality” are suffering under extremely severe conditions especially in remote areas. The statistical data regarding accessibility and continuity, such as rate of OOSCY(Out of School Children and Youth), survival rate, dropout rate, presents significant disparities between the capital (Vientiane) and other regions. For instance, rate of OOSCY(age 12-18) shows 27.6% in Vientiane, but 46.4% in Savanakhet (south region).
In the aspect of quality, observations and interviews in public primary schools in Luang Namtha and Luang Pharang (north region) indicated disadvantaged conditions, not only poorly built school infrastructures, but distribution of textbooks, not enough educational materials, low instruction time and poor qualifications of teachers.
In a Lenten minority village school of Luang Namtha, students use old textbooks issued in 2011, and only three teachers are available for about seventy students. The classes were managed by a multiple grade system (grades 1 to 2, 3 to 4 study together). Another Khamu minority village in Luang Phrabang, textbooks and instruction time was limited. For example, 30 hours per week (6 periods a day) are allocated in the school, but the afternoon classes (5th and 6th periods) are occupied by practical subjects such as art and physical education and finish in between times. In Akha minority village , there were no classes on Friday afternoons because the teacher wanted to return to her hometown at the weekend.
On the other hand, there were 35 hours (7 hours a day) allocated in a town school. The difference can be seen in the teaching subjects, for instance, major subjects such as Math, Lao language, and the World Around Us (Science & Social studies) are principally taught. Even Math in French was taught because some teachers can speak French. The difference in teaching quality among the provinces was notable and the situation gave negative impacts on the academic achievement such as the national assessment test. The result shows that the rate of “Independent learner” is the lowest in Luang Namtha (4.59%), and highest in Vientiane (49.5%). Regarding “Pre-functional,” meaning a student has not reached the minimum level, is the highest in Luang Namtha (36.46%) and the lowest in Vientiane (7.71%).
To improve these situations, both in access and quality, seeking a budget in available sectors, as it has been conducted recently, in accordance with regional and local needs is essential. Moreover, to enhance the quality of education with the limited number of teachers, pedagogical training for effective teaching, especially in multi-grade classes, will be required. It will contribute to diminish the regional disparity in terms of education access and quality.
Moreover, as problems concerning OOSCY are extremely difficult to solve by a country itself, the result of this research which investigates the importance of regional cooperation, especially ASEAN community, will contribute to solve OOSCY related problems in other developing regions.
Miki Inui is a Professor in the School of Environment and Human Sciences at University of Hyogo, Japan. Her research interest lies in education for minority groups (ethnic minorities, newcomers, refugees), educational disparities, and multicultural education. She continuously conducts her research and involves in school building projects in the remote area of LaoPDR.