Laos: Dispelling fears for a safe return to school

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the learning journey of over 1.4 million pre-primary to secondary school students in Lao PDR. Here’s how the Ministry of Education worked with partners to ensure children in remote areas could continue learning during the pandemic and secure them a safe return to school.

March 22, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
3 minutes read
Ketsavan Chalensouk, 18, was able to finish grade 12 after schools reopened. Credit: UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki
Ketsavan Chalensouk, 18, was able to finish grade 12 after schools reopened.
Credit: Credit: UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

“We were at home for too long. This is my last year in school and I was worried that we will not be able to appear for state exams. I am so relieved to be back.”

Ketsavan Chalensouk

18-year-old Ketsavan Chalensouk, a grade 12, student, was happy that pandemic-related lockdowns didn’t affect her too much.

Around 14,000 schools and educational institutions in Laos closed in March 2020 as part of the government’s response to COVID-19, resulting in an estimated 1.4 million students being out of school.

During school closures, every effort was made to deliver lessons through various platforms such as radio, television and online. Many students, however, in particular vulnerable children remained out of reach.

To address these challenges, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) worked with partners to put in place measures to ensure children in remote areas could continue learning, including supporting the printing of learning materials.

Support from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) during the pandemic ensured that the ministry could support a mix of activities to ensure the continuity of education for children in Laos.

“This generous grant will strengthen the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as students prepare to start the new school year,” said Dr. Phout. Simmalavong, Vice Minister of Education and Sports.

The government decided to reopen schools between May and June 2020 in a staggered manner given that no new COVID-19 cases were reported in over a month. By June 2, 2020, all 14,000 schools were reopened.

Students in their classroom in a school in Lao PDR. @UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki
Students in their classroom in a school in Lao PDR.
@UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

The Ministry of Education worked closely with partners in planning the safe return of schoolchildren to classrooms by adopting the joint Safe Schools Guidance for ‘COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools’ and the ‘Framework for school reopening’.

“It is so nice to have my students back in the classroom. During the lockdown, we were checking in on our students regularly. Luckily all of them and their families were safe,” said Viengchit Sinthamvongsa, health and population teacher.

Additional activities to ensure continuity of education during the pandemic have included:

  • Strengthening alternative education platforms such as online learning platforms with offline access and production of education programs on TV and radio.
  • Online rapid survey to help alleviate concerns about going back to school and inform the joint efforts by the ministries of education and health in developing clear guidelines, instructions, and communications materials for the safe return to school.
  • Social media campaign launched to disseminate information on ways to stay protected and keep others safe.
  • Building skills of teachers and parents to support children’s learning in and out of school.
  • Distribution of textbooks, teachers’ guides and other learning materials, as well as soap, cleaning and hygiene materials to support COVID-19 prevention measures in schools.

In August 2020, Laos received a US$7 million grant from GPE to help respond to and mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s education.

This story was produced with support from UNICEF Laos.

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