COVID-19 and Education

Laos has reported relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Laotians have still been significantly impacted by both national and international measures to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. Education is one of the services that has been impacted by these measures.

Schools were first closed in Laos following a government order on March 18, 2020, impacting 1.7 million students across the country, enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year in primary, secondary, tertiary, and vocational schools. Schools partially reopened on May 1, 20201, and schools recently fully reopened on September 2, 2020 with handwashing basins, soap and face masks, and 3m distancing between desks2. UNESCO has supported the reopening of schools through the development of a framework for reopening.3

Impact of COVID-19 on Laotian students

While school closures have been relatively short, the impact on Laotian students has been high, due to significant pre-existing inequalities in access to education. Despite a predominantly rural population, rural schools suffer from a lack of learning resources, poor school facilities, and few qualified teachers, especially regarding digital literacy. At least 25% of schools do not have handwashing facilities. Natural disasters have exacerbated these inequalities.4

While at-home learning has been supported by online learning around the world, the reality for many Laotians is that they do not have the internet or the tools to access this platform. Internet penetration, though higher than before, remains under 50%.

Thus, as stated by UNICEF, a blend of print, TV, radio and online platforms are necessary to support at-home learning, accompanied by support to teachers and parents/caregivers.5 Yet, the success of these tools still represents an ideal scenario, given inequalities in access to education and relevant tools as mentioned above for marginalized populations in Lao PDR, which are primarily the rural poor, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities, and women.

COVID-19 measures have highlighted these inequalities, especially as the affected populations are more vulnerable to economic uncertainty and less resilient to sudden change. In particular, education has typically been seen as a tool to support vulnerable children, especially girls, who are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, child and forced marriage, child labour, human trafficking, and other abuses. For example, it is expected that child marriage, which predominantly impacts poor rural girls, will increase due to the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, as well as resulting from lockdown pregnancies preventing girls from returning back to school.6 Furthermore, an increase in child online abuse has been reported around the Southeast Asia region, leading activists to speak up about the issue.7

Impact on Laos development: SDG 4

Despite guarantees in the Laotian constitution regarding education, as well as some relevant policies, equal access to education in Lao PDR remains a work in progress. The country has been working on localizing the Sustainable Development Goals, with SDG 4 Quality Education indicators incorporated into the 8th Five-Year National Socio-Economic Development Plan. While data still lacks, available data suggests that more needs to be done, especially for the rural poor. With the difficulties caused by COVID-19, access to quality education in Lao PDR will surely be an area that will need greater support.

References

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