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Education in Laos

 The literacy rate (percentage of the population who can read and write) in Laos is estimated at 45 percent. The Lao are much more likely to be literate (able to read and write) than minority peoples, and men are more likely to be literate than are women. The LPDR is the first government to make a serious effort to extend education beyond the Lao areas to minorities. However, with the loss of about 90 percent of its most educated population (who fled the country as refugees), education has perhaps been set back a generation, and already low standards have declined further. Universal primary education by the year 2000 is the government's goal but seems beyond reach given current progress. Many village schools have only one or two grades and little in the way of books, paper, or school supplies. Teachers are paid little and often infrequently, so they often have to farm or hold a second job to support their families. School sessions, therefore, tend to be sporadic.

There are five years of primary school, but probably only half of primary school-age children finish fifth grade. This is followed by three years of lower secondary school and three years of upper secondary school. Secondary schools are few in number and are located in cities and provincial capitals. One must pass a test to enter secondary school. School uniforms and supplies are expensive, the distances are great, and village education too rudimentary for many village children to continue their education. There are a few colleges and technical institutes in Vientiane, the capital.

In the early days of the LPDR, teenagers from "bad" family backgrounds, as defined by the communists (children of officials from the old regime or of shopkeepers), were often denied entrance to secondary education. Some teens fled the country on their own, risking being shot or drowning as they swam the Mekong River to Thailand. They were hoping to resettle abroad and continue their education.

Recently private schools have been allowed and are preferred over public schools by parents who can afford the fees. Lack of financial resources and trained teachers remains a problem for Laos.


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