In many places, achieving quality education can be a significant challenge. In Laos, a complex country with great diversity, children have diverse backgrounds and they often come 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) program is a 10-year partnership between the Government of Australia (GoA) and the Government of Lao PDR (GoL) with the goal that: ‘more girls and boys of primary school-age, particularly those experiencing disadvantage, achieve functional literacy.’
In the first five years of Phase I (2015-August 2020), the Lao Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) received support from the Australian Government, co-funding from the European Union (EU), and funding from the US State Department.
During the extension of Phase I (September 2020- June 2022), the Australian Government continues to support MoES through the BEQUAL program with a focus on primary curriculum development, teacher professional development, and integration of gender and inclusive education principles and practices.
Key achievements over the first 5 years of the program (2015-August 2020)
During that period, BEQUAL reached over 420,000 beneficiaries including 395,521 students (48% F), 29,022 educators (50% F); and 3,152 education managers (31% F).
Better resourced teaching and learning environments:
- Production and distribution of 18,470 teacher resource boxes (TRBs) to 9,105 Grade 1 classrooms and 9,365 Grade 2 classrooms, with learning resources for teachers of all grades
- Development and distribution of 510,205 storybooks in sets of 39 titles, and 1,223,645 decodable readers.
- A successful communication campaign to build awareness of the new curriculum and pedagogy through features in national and provincial television and radio spots, national Lao language and English newspapers, MoES media channels, MoES, BEQUAL, DFAT, EU and USAID online and social media, village loudspeaker, and development and production of the Claymation-based children’s edutainment series Learn Together.
- 15 episodes of Learn Together broadcast on Lao National TV to accompany uptake of the new grade 1 curriculum are now being re-broadcast on 3 national TV channels and were broadcast during the school closure period in response to COVID-19.
Increased participation, especially by disadvantaged children
- Scholarships and support for 3595 ethnic teacher students (63% F) through to their successful graduation, with 130 (63% F) teachers awarded permanent public service positions by 2020
- Infrastructure upgrading for 582 schools in 45 districts of 9 provinces improving access and participation by girls and children with a disability
- Implementation of literacy development, WASH, and disability inclusion projects in 171 villages through an NGO consortium
- Development and application of a Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) assessment tool for primary curriculum materials, in-service training materials and program communications to ensure positive and inclusive representation of gender roles, ethnic diversity, and agency of people with disability.
More effective teaching
- Successful capacity building of MoES, Provincial Education and Sports Services (PESS), District Education and Sports Bureaus (DESBs) and Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) for writing curriculum materials, including on how to achieve equality and inclusion in the classroom.
- Piloting of 15 innovative education policy and teaching improvement activities at the provincial, district and school level with the objective to improve student learning outcomes.
- Grades 1 and 2 of the new national primary curriculum successfully developed, produced, and distributed comprising 1,612,000 textbooks, 246,400 teacher guides for 320,102 grade 1 and 2 students, 25,845 teachers and principals in 8823 schools
- 30,282 in-service training handbooks and 11 teaching demonstration videos produced
- A cadre of 59 (39% F) Master Trainers (MTs) and 597 (38% F) Provincial Trainers (PTs) trained to train 9,662 grade 1 teachers (60% F) in the new curriculum in 2019-20, preparing to train 9,882 Grade 2 teachers (56% F) in 2020-21, and a readily available resource for ongoing teacher support
- Successful development and national trialling (in progress) of a new pre-service primary teacher training curriculum, including a module on inclusive education (IE), that is aligned with the new primary curriculum and teacher in-service training
- Support for MoES to revise key policies: National Primary Curriculum Framework, National Primary Teaching Standards, Pre-service Curriculum Framework, National Assessment Policy Framework, MoES Finance and Administration Management Manual, and Inclusive Education Strategy and Action Plan.
- Improved Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) capacity: DESB, PESS and MoES using technology-based tools combined with capacity building and implementation support; ASLO Grade 3 study to collect data on student learning outcomes (2017).
- Successfully piloting an output-based grant mechanism: The district level grants led to a 240% increase in the number of school support visits made and budget efficiencies of up to 34%.
- Successful financial management and planning training: 269 staff from 18 PESS and 32 target DESB trained for the disbursement and acquittal of 60 PESS and DESB grants with an overall amount of AU$ 2,065,536 within tight fiduciary risk management strategies.
Response to COVID-19 challenge
BEQUAL adapted quickly to the challenges of COVID-198 by supporting MoES with their production of TV teaching for primary classes and providing PPE. Some activities were delayed by a few weeks, such as production and delivery of grade 2 materials, and a few activities had to be re-scheduled for the next school year. All activities were adapted to ‘social distancing’ requirements including the training planned for 9,883 grade 2 teachers (56% F) and 921 DESB Pedagogical Advisors (56% F) in July – August 2020.
BEQUAL support for MoES’ primary education reforms continues to be highly relevant among GoL fiscal constraints, COVID-19 related learning gaps and MoES’ continued commitment to policy reform.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
June 2015 – ongoing