Educational Challenges in Laos

Written by Uzair Ahmad Saleem

Laos is a landlocked Southeast Asian country with a population of approximately 7.2 million people. It is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked 139th out of 189 in the Human Development Index. The progress and wellbeing of the people and country depend heavily on education, but it faces many obstacles, particularly in early childhood education (ECE) and Primary education.

Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education (ECE) is the first phase of formal education for children aged 3 to 5. It attempts to prepare children for primary school by providing the foundation for their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. ECE in Laos, however, has low enrollment and completion rates, particularly for kids in isolated and underprivileged communities who frequently do not speak Lao, the official language of instruction.

According to the most recent Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) data, just 44.6% of children aged 3 to 5 years old were enrolled in ECE programs in 2019-2020, with only 37.4% completing them. Children from ethnic minority groups had lower enrollment and completion rates (32.8% and 26.7%, respectively), as did children from rural areas (40.8% and 33.8%, respectively) and poor households (36.9% and 30.1%, respectively).

One of the primary reasons for inadequate access to ECE is a shortage of ECE facilities and skilled teachers in distant and underprivileged communities. In 2017, just 28% of communities had an ECE centre, and only 18% of ECE teachers had received formal training, according to a UNICEF report. Furthermore, many ECE centres lacked basic infrastructure, such as water, sanitation, hygiene facilities, teaching-learning materials, and child-friendly surroundings.

Another factor contributing to inadequate access to ECE is a lack of understanding and demand among parents and caregivers, who frequently do not comprehend the benefits of ECE for their children’s development and learning outcomes. Many parents struggle to send their children to ECE centres owing to distance, cost, language problems, cultural norms, or household obligations.

To address these issues, UNICEF and other development partners are collaborating with MoES to broaden the Community-Based School Readiness Programme (CBSR) into rural areas not Lao-speaking and other educationally underprivileged communities. The CBSR program gives children access to high-quality ECE opportunities through community-based learning centres or at home, with the help of qualified facilitators and volunteers. As part of its parenting education component, the program teaches parents and other caregivers how to support their children’s learning and development at home.

Furthermore, UNICEF and other development partners are assisting the MoES in improving the pre-primary curriculum and ECE quality standards and developing and implementing a national ECE costed action plan. The goal is to provide all children with access to high-quality early childhood education programs aligned with the national curriculum framework and fulfilling minimal quality criteria. The action plan also includes methods for increasing the quantity and quality of early childhood educators and school principals and providing enough teaching-learning materials.

Primary Education

The second level of formal education, primary school, is for children between 6 and 10 years old. Its goal is to equip children with fundamental reading, numeracy, science, social studies, arts, physical education, and life skills. Laos’ primary education system, however, is inefficient and of low quality, contributing to high rates of repeat and dropout and subpar academic results for children.

According to the most recent MoES data, just 84.5% of children aged 6 to 10 were enrolled in primary school in 2019-2020, with only 76.9% completing it. The enrollment and completion rates were lower for girls (83.1% and 75.4%, respectively), for ethnic minority groups (77.9% and 69%, respectively), for rural areas (82.5% and 74.4%, respectively), and for poor households (79.1% and 70.7%, respectively).

One of the key reasons for the low quality and efficiency of primary education is that many children, particularly those from distant and underprivileged communities, have limited access to quality ECE programs. This has an impact on their preparation for primary education since they frequently lack the required language, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. As a result, many students fail to meet the curriculum’s expectations, repeat grades, or drop out of school.

Another cause of primary education’s low quality and efficiency is teachers’ and principals’ limited capacity and skills and a lack of pedagogical support and teaching-learning materials. In 2017, only 54% of primary teachers had received formal training, according to a UNICEF assessment. In addition, many teachers had to deal with issues including high class numbers, teaching multiple grades at once, a variety of languages, poor motivation, low pay, and little supervision.

A third reason for the low quality and efficiency of primary education is the low learning outcomes of students in literacy and numeracy skills. According to the most recent findings of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) assessment, which was done in 2019 among Grade 5 pupils in six Southeast Asian nations (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam), Laos placed lowest in both reading and maths. Only 18% of Laotian students met the minimal reading proficiency level, and only 12% met the necessary mathematics competence level. These findings suggest that many Laotian kids are not acquiring the necessary knowledge and abilities for future schooling and life.

In order to overcome these difficulties, the MoES is collaborating with UNICEF and other development partners to strengthen the primary curriculum and provide Pedagogical Advisors and teacher training. The goal is to improve the quality and relevance of the curriculum and increase teachers’ and administrators’ capacity and abilities in child-centred pedagogies, assessment, and school management. The Pedagogical Advisors are certified teachers who regularly coach and advise other teachers in their schools and districts.

Furthermore, UNICEF and other development partners are assisting the Ministry of Education in promoting safe and enjoyable learning settings, including adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. The objective is to guarantee that every child can access well-maintained, kid-friendly schools that promote their health, hygiene, and general wellbeing. Activities to raise awareness and prevent violence, bullying, and discrimination in schools are also part of the curriculum.

UNICEF and other development partners also assist the MoES in gathering, analyzing, and utilizing data for evidence-based decision-making and policy formation. The objective is to strengthen the planning and monitoring procedures for the education sector as well as to increase the accessibility, usefulness, and quality of educational data at all levels of the educational system. The program also involves assistance in performing national exams, such as SEA-PLM, to assess students’ learning results.

Additionally, the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education are investing in primary school performance through a $46.9 million project jointly funded by them. By enhancing teacher quality, school infrastructure, learning materials, school grants, student assessments, and information systems, the project intends to improve learning outcomes for almost 450,000 children in Laos.


Education is a fundamental human right and a significant factor in individuals’ and nations’ growth and prosperity. However, education in Laos confronts numerous obstacles, particularly in ECE and primary education, which affect access, quality, and efficiency. To achieve quality education for all children in Laos, the government, development partners, civil society, and communities must move quickly and in concert.

  • “Education.” UNICEF Lao People’s Democratic Republic,
  • “New Project to Improve Primary Education in Lao PDR.” World Bank, 19 Mar. 2021,
  • “SEA-PLM 2019 Main Regional Report.” UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, 1 Dec. 2020,
  • Kamiya, Yusuke, and Marika Nomura. “Evaluating the Impact of Early Childhood Education on Child Development in Lao PDR.” International Journal of Early Years Education, vol. 31, no. 1, Routledge, Aug. 2022, pp. 10–30.
  • World Bank Group. “Maintaining Economic Stability in Lao PDR.” World Bank, 15 Aug. 2019,

Cover Image “Happy children in a primary school in Lao PDR” by GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer via Flickr

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