Client name: Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Duration: June 2015 - ongoing

Location: Lao People’s Democratic Republic

In many places, achieving quality education can be a significant challenge. In Laos, a complex country with great diversity, children come from a range of different backgrounds when they start school, often from remote regions with their own language, and with no educational history in their family. The Basic Education Quality and Access in Lao PDR (BEQUAL), managed by Coffey on behalf of the Australian Government and the European Union, supports the Government of Lao PDR to provide quality literacy, numeracy and other life skills to children from disadvantaged regions in Laos.

Through supporting the Laos Government’s Ministry of Education and Sports, communities and teachers, and by improving learning materials and infrastructure, the program aims to improve literacy and numeracy levels and provide access to quality early education. BEQUAL’s approach focuses on partnerships – with governments and ministries, teachers and students, partners and stakeholders. Coffey is proud to manage BEQUAL, helping to improve the lives of thousands of Lao’s disadvantaged girls and boys, by giving them literacy skills, a greater quality of education, and a brighter future.

Strengthening support networks

BEQUAL has begun by conducting training workshops at district level for the Ministry of Education and Sports. Through these workshops, staff have gained important insight into more than 400 primary schools being used for ethnic teacher recruitment. IT staff have had substantial training and software has been upgraded throughout the Ministry of Education and Sport, to ensure the impacts of the program can be monitored and evaluated over time.

Encouraging participation and engaging learning

In rural areas, social and cultural attitudes can pose significant barriers to children’s education. Some children, particularly girls, are expected to stay at home and take care of their families. In order to encourage student participation BEQUAL has designed an innovation fund to pilot new programs and courses. Two of the first recipients to be funded are Clay House Studio and ChildFund Laos. Clay House Studio is dedicated to creating animated films, some of which are broadcast on television and use Claymation to teach children about literacy and numeracy. The other, ChildFund Laos, is a new training course for upper primary aged girls, developed to combine important life skills with intensive teaching of the Lao language. The training will strengthen the skills and confidence of girls and support their transition into secondary school.

Teaching community role models

Local or “home grown” teachers are a key factor in encouraging children’s attendance at school, and a vital aspect of the education system in Laos. Local ethnic teachers act as a role model for the kids, encouraging them to continue their education in a country where too few ethnic students succeed. These teachers also have an invaluable understanding of the language and culture of the students, which is why BEQUAL is supporting scholarships to 520 ethnic teachers, two-thirds of them women, so they can become primary school teachers in remote regions.

 “The scholarship allows me to further my education and develop my skills. I am happy that the scholarship has reached our ethnic community in a very remote area.” – Miss Lidavanh Sithivong

“The primary school in my village does not have enough teachers. Therefore, I am glad to be trained as a teacher at the teacher training centre. I will go back to my village to teach at the school there.” – Mr Asa Xaejorthu

 Writing the future 

To ensure teachers are able to educate to the best of their ability, and to improve the learning outcomes of all children, BEQUAL will be working with Research Institute of Educational Sciences (RIES) over the next six years, assisting curriculum writers to rewrite the primary curriculum.  Improving literacy is the primary focus, as it’s a critical component in learning across all subjects, particularly for children who aren’t fluent in Lao. The writing teams are working with a Lao linguist and educational consultant, to devise curriculum and framework for the Lao language.  Workshops have been held to discuss which subjects will be in the new curriculum, how students will be assessed, and how to tackle issues such as multi-grade teaching, inclusive education, and student readiness.

Building education foundations

As well as improving resources, the program is also improving school infrastructure to ensure all children are safe, comfortable and able to learn. It's estimated that 57 per cent of schools in Laos don't have functioning water and sanitation facilities. These will be upgraded in more than 700 schools, and classrooms will be built and repaired in up to 900 villages. The repairs will make a huge impact on the learning environment. Many of the old blackboards are black-painted plywood. Similarly, dirt floors will be replaced with concrete, and rusty and leaking roofs will be mended. BEQUAL places a high priority on accessibility for all, and providing new access ramps will offer easier access to toilets for girls and boys with disabilities.

Patnerships for success

Partnerships like this are imperative to BEQUAL’s success, and have made a number of invaluable programs possible. Thanks to the World Food Programme, more than 150,000 school children are now receiving a nutritious lunch every day and schools are being fitted with water tanks and vegetable gardens.  While working as part of a consortium across different regions, with various Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), Save the Children, and UNESCO can sometimes create a challenging work environment, BEQUAL has achieved a huge amount during its first 10 months. So far, 217 students (almost 50 per cent under the program), have been awarded ethnic teacher scholarships, and are studying to become qualified teachers, and 406 existing primary schools have already commenced repairs.