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Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao (ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ/The Lao People's Democratic Republic) is a landlocked country in southeast Asia bordered by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China. Its history can be traced back to the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang which was established in the 14th century by King Fa Ngum. Lan Xang included part of present-day Cambodia and Thailand. In the late 18th century, Siam invaded Lan Xang and it remained under Siamese control until it became part of French Indochina in the early 19th century. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 established the current Laotian border with Thailand. On July 19, 1949, Laos declared independence from France and the monarchy returned. However, Communists gained control of the country in 1975. Lao is the official language, while French and English are widely used. Literacy is 68%.

The government of Laos is one of the few remaining official Communist states, although they began to encourage private enterprise in the 1980s. Despite the surge of growth after the 1980s, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure with no railroads, limited telecommunications, and a primitive road system to unify the disparate parts of the country. Laos has experienced great difficulty in establishing a unified national identity and an effective education system, and has forced education to take a back seat to more fundamental concerns.


Children living in isolated plateaus and mountainous areas are less likely to go to school if it is not easily accessible. This lack of accessibility, combined with traditional family attitudes, cost, and the need for children to help with household work, results in fewer children, especially girls from ethnic minority groups, attending school. Approximately four thousand villages in Laos have no access to primary schools, and a significant percentage of primary school teachers lack sufficient training. A key problem of the educational system is the difficulty primary schools face in attracting children and enrolling them long enough to learn.

Much of the push for a higher priority on education has come from outside of the country. Australian funding, for example, provides supplementary and adapted curricula for multi-grade teaching (teaching several grades in a single classroom), teaching of locally relevant skills to minority children, support for teachers and principals, teacher training and the recruitment and training of ethnic minority teachers.

Currently, the Ministry of Education and Sports oversees education in Laos.

Primary Education

Primary education begins at age 6 and lasts for 5 years. This is the only compulsory education in Laos and only 71% of children at this age level are enrolled. 15% of students continue on to the 3-year mathanyom (lower secondary) school, and 3% continue on to the 3-year udom (upper secondary) school. Primary school is five years and students are awarded a Primary School Certificate.

Secondary Education

Students then continue on to lower secondary school which is three years, and are awarded the Diplôme d'Études du Premier Cycle d'Études Nationales (DEPCEN) upon completion. Upper secondary school is three years and, upon completion, students are awarded the Baccalauréat II which allows access to university studies.

Post-Secondary Education

There are several options for post-secondary studies: universities, 1 to 3-year advanced diploma programs at higher technical institutes, 1- to 3-year certificate programs at technical institutes, and teacher training colleges.

First Cycle

Admission to universities is based on a quota system for each province that is set by the Ministry of Education and Sports. Eligibility is based on the student's upper secondary records and their results on the Baccalauréat II. Students who are found eligible must take an aptitude test to determine final ability for admissions. Students who do meet the quota system requirements can take the National University of Laos National Entrance Examination as an alternative. Approximately 700 out of 7000 upper-secondary graduates are admitted to the first year of university study and about 3000 upper-secondary graduates continue in technical institutes and teacher training colleges.

All university programs require completion of two years at the School of Foundation Studies at the National University of Laos before continuing in bachelor's degree studies. No credential is awarded upon completion of the 2-year program at the School of Foundation Studies. University studies are an additional two to four years depending on the program of study following the School of Foundation Studies, and results in a Bachelor's degree. Completion of the Bachelor's degree may lead to further study in graduate level programs.

Second and Third Cycles

A course of study leading to a master's degree is offered requiring a minimum of two years of study. At present it is only available in medical sciences and economics. There is no doctoral level education currently available.

A doctorate of medicine is offered after seven years of post-secondary study directly following the Baccalauréat II.

Teacher Training

Pre-primary and primary school teachers are trained in a 3-year teaching program following lower secondary school or in a 1-year program following the Baccalauréat II. They must also be 15 years old at the time of admission. Lower secondary teachers are trained in a 3-year course following the Baccalauréat II at one of the 6 teacher training colleges. Upper secondary teachers are trained in a 5-year program at the National University of Laos directly following the Baccalauréat II.

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Robert Watkins

Special Assistant to the Director, University of Texas at Austin


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