MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is to help the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) address key gaps in its secondary education system that impede its contributions to growth and the country's transition to a market economy.
The ADB Board of Directors has approved loan and grant finance totaling $40 million for the Secondary Education Sector Development Program. The funds will support policy reforms and other measures to improve the quality and relevance of the curriculum, and to make access to secondary schooling more equitable. Much of the focus will be on ensuring that young people - particularly girls - from poor, remote ethnic group communities attend school.
"Education is an essential component of Lao PDR's development strategy and modernization, and significant gains have been made at the primary level," said Chris Spohr, an ADB senior education economist. "The transition to a seven-year secondary education subsector is an important milestone, but there remain gaps in access, quality and relevance, and management which need to be addressed."
While total numbers attending secondary classes have grown substantially in recent years, enrolment rates remain problematic. National figures also mask significant disparities, with enrolment rates lowest and dropout rates highest in poor, rural and ethnic group areas. Rapid rises in the number of primary school graduates and limited resources have strained the ability of the government to provide high quality secondary education.
The Ministry of Education is putting in place new curricula and textbooks for secondary schools to improve learning, and the program will aid the government's reform efforts. Assistance will be given for a range of policy including access to secondary education for disadvantaged students, and to improve teacher recruitment, training and performance.
The project grant will supplement the program loan with targeted, specific measures, including building new secondary classrooms in districts with the most need. It will also fund stipends for almost 3,000 poor students (prioritizing girls and ethnic group children), along with the construction of low-cost, sex-segregated dormitories. Support will be given for textbook development and distribution and for nationwide teacher training to help roll out the new curricula.
The program loan, equivalent to $10 million from ADB's concessional Asian Development Fund, has a 24-year term and an 8-year grace period. Interest during the grace period is set at 1.0%, rising to 1.5% for the balance of the term. The project grant of $30 million also comes from the Asian Development Fund, with the Government of Lao PDR contributing $2.4 million for a total investment cost of $42.4 million.
The Ministry of Education will execute the program and associated project activities which are due for completion by December 2018.