Education in Laos

Freedom House, a non-governmental research group based in the United States of America, ranks Laos’s education system as 108 out of 149 countries included in their study. This is slightly above Congo at 119th and Burundi at 130th. Laos is a poor country, the poorest of whose residents aren’t receiving the education they need to raise themselves out of poverty. 

Facts about the education system in Laos


A few basic facts about Lao’s education system:

  • The school terms runs from September to June.
  • Education in state schools is taught in the Lao language only.
  • Free schooling is provided to all Laos children for 4 periods:
    • Pre-primary 3 years (age 3 to 5)
    • Primary 5 years (ages 6 to 10)
    • Lower secondary 4 years (ages 11 to 14)
    • Upper secondary 3 years ages 15 to 17)
  • Education is only compulsory for the 5 year primary period. 
Primary school in rural Laos
Primary school in rural Laos

This education is provided to a population of 6.5 million by the following network of educational facilities:

  • Around 9,000 primary schools
  • Approximately 1,000 secondary schools
  • The National University of Laos, some private higher education facilities and teacher training colleges, pretty much all based in Vientiane, the capital city.

Problems with education in Laos


There is no one reason why educational outcomes in Laos are so poor. There are lots of factors which combined make the Laos educational system, particularly in rural areas, a near complete failure:

  • Only half the country speaks Lao as a first language, and the poorer the student’s background the less likely they are to have a good grasp of the language they are taught in.
  • Lao teachers are generally unpaid and many need to engage in farming to feed themselves leaving schools understaffed for large parts of the year.
  • In some parts of the country the number of school places is less than the number of children who need to be educated.
  • In poorer areas the children often simply don’t attend the compulsory part of their schooling as they are needed at home to assist the family in making a living.
  • Primary education is often so poor that students can’t pass the tests needed to transition to secondary education.
  • Good higher education is in short supply in Laos, meaning that an unhealthy proportion of Laotian teachers don’t receive the training they need to teach children effectively creating a vicious cycle of educational underachievement.
  • In a country where critical thinking is generally discouraged, the education system tends not to look to foster this important attribute in children thereby hindering the development of problem solving skills.

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