“My parents have never been to school,” Don says. “I am happy for this chance and I look forward to coming to school to learn and meet my friends.”
Don lives in a remote part of the country and belongs to the Katang ethnic community, one of many minority groups in Lao PDR. For many children in her class, poverty is a formidable barrier to quality education. Additionally, girls are often disproportionately impacted by the perceived low value of education on the part of their parents.
Still, the country’s national education system comprises formal and non-formal education, which are similar in curriculum content and grading assessment. The latter option has proven a critical alternative for children like Don, who struggle to access the formal system due to poverty, ethnic discrimination and geographic location.
In 2015, Educate A Child (EAC) and UNESCO partnered to implement the Strengthening Education Systems for Out of School Children (OOSC) project. To date, this initiative has reached more than 5,300 children across the country. Not only does the project aim to improve access to quality primary education to marginalised children, it also seeks to enhance the institutional capacity of education systems to serve OOSC, like Don – girls from minority communities in remote areas – throughout Southeast Asia.
Since 2016, Don has been able to attend daily two-hour classes in the evening. During the day, Don helps with housework and looks after her younger siblings. Her parents are farmers and tend to their fields in planting and harvesting seasons. Like many children in Lamuek, Don has to join them there when she’s needed.
The classes that Don attends are flexible, in terms of teaching, setting and scheduling, and are designed to cater to the needs of individual students. Don’s teacher says, “She is a very smart girl and if she continues to study, she’ll have better opportunities in life.”