The proposed Secondary Education Sector Development Program (SESDP) is a sector development program (SDP), consisting of (i) a program loan; and (ii) a project grant. The program loan would support key policy reform actions focused on strengthening the secondary education subsector (SES) -- which consists of lower secondary and upper secondary education (LSE and USE) -- throughout the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The project grant would finance investments that directly link to and support delivery on those policy actions and ensure they are effectively operationalized. Complementary program and project components will collectively address key priorities related to equitable access, quality and relevance, and subsector management in SES. The Program will principally be national or nationwide in scope, with access-related project investments targeted to selected disadvantaged and underserved areas.
Subject to further review and dialogue between ADB and the Lao PDR government, the targeted impact of the Program will be improved educational attainment in Lao PDR, and the targeted outcome will be enhanced equity, quality, and efficiency of secondary education in Lao PDR. While the program and project components will principally be national or nationwide in scope, project investments to expand access will be targeted to 30 selected districts that are simultaneously classified by the government as "poorest" and "educationally disadvantaged".
The Program design directly supports the Ministry of Education in operationalizing the government's reform agenda and programs to strengthen education (with a focus on SES), including key targets set for SES under the Education Sector Development Framework (ESDF). Aligned with Lao PDR's ongoing SES reform agenda and ESDF's 3 pillars, the Program (including complementary policy program and investment project interventions) will deliver 3 core outputs: (i) expanded access to secondary education; (ii) improved delivery of new secondary education curricula; and (iii) strengthened SES management.
|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
The Government of Lao PDR ascribes a high priority to education, as a prerequisite for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction. Government and international development partner (IDP) efforts have supported expanded education access, particularly at the primary level (grades 1-5), where state and IDP support has been concentrated. Gains have also been made in SES, with the transition to a 7-year system marking a key milestone: Completed during school years SY2009/10 and SY2010/11, the Ministry of Education (MOE's) extension of LSE from 3 to 4 years and subsequent addition of USE grade 12 aligns Lao PDR's system of primary (5 years), LSE (4 years), and USE (3 years) with the international standard of 12 years of primary and secondary schooling. At the same time, key gaps in terms of equitable access, quality and relevance, and subsector management undermine SES' and the entire education system's contributions to modernization, equity and inclusive growth, poverty reduction, and broader socioeconomic development in Lao PDR.
Access -- With expansion of primary education, SES has become a key bottleneck. From SY2006/07 to SY2009/10, the LSE gross enrolment rate (GER) rose from 53.3% to 60.2%, with the USE GER stagnant at 34.0%. Aggregate figures conceal large socioeconomic and geographic gaps: e.g., in SY2009/10, GERs for girls and boys in LSE were 44.4% and 56.1% in the poorest districts. Particularly in poor, rural, and largely ethnic group areas (where education quality is also lowest), enrolment rates decline steadily at higher grades of SES. Expanding access requires policy and investments to address an array of demand-side issues (e.g., financial and opportunity costs, weak primary school preparation, language and other cultural factors, and disabilities) and supply-side factors (e.g., weak school network coverage of remote areas, and inadequate financial and human resources), as well as quality issues.
Quality -- Low SES enrolment and high rates of repetition and especially dropout partly reflect quality gaps: The national LSE dropout rate was 13% in SY2009/10, and is much higher in many poor and ethnic areas. In 7 of the poorest provinces, only 11% to 25% of children are expected to reach and complete grade 11. Particularly for LSE, rapid rises in primary school graduates in recent years and limited resourcing have strained capacities to provide access to good quality education. As part of comprehensive SES reforms, MOE has developed new LSE and USE curricula and new LSE textbooks and teacher guides, and commenced the cohort-based phase-in of the new SES curriculum starting in SY2010/11. Follow-on policy and investment support will be critical to fully operationalize these reforms and realize gains from (and meet the jump in LSE enrolment and other challenges linked to) the addition of a fourth year of LSE in SY2009/10, and the potential of new LSE and USE curricula to better feed-in to subsequent learning and employment. Priorities include bolstering (i) systems and institutions providing pre- and in-service training and support to SES teachers; (ii) mechanisms for teacher deployment to poor, rural, and largely ethnic group areas (particularly in subjects like science and math); and (iii) investment in facilities and teaching and learning materials (ranging from textbooks to laboratory facilities).
Subsector management -- Interlinked with access and quality issues, gaps in subsector management undermine learning outcomes and SES' internal and external efficiency. Low investment poses an overarching issue for the education sector, and SES is particularly under-resourced, with ADB the only IDP providing comprehensive support. Financing gaps compound other urgent SES management challenges including in (i) institutional capacity, including the need for further rationalization alongside decentralization; (ii) human resources and technical and managerial capacities; (iii) planning and budgeting, as well as management information systems (MIS); (iv) assessment of teachers and of student learning outcomes, as well as broader quality control; and (v) enhanced mobilization of private sector actors.
To address these gaps and challenges, there is strong justification for a comprehensive SDP approach that aligns directly with the ESDF and other government strategies and policies. Approved by the Prime Minister in 2009, ESDF provides a roadmap for operationalizing the National Education System Reform Strategy, 2006-2015 and a unified framework to guide all government and IDP efforts. Dialogue toward ADB's next country partnership strategy for Lao PDR has identified education as a core sector, and the government has called on ADB to provide sustained support for SES via the proposed sector development program (the Program). This modality allows for comprehensive program and project support to advance progress within SES under all 3 ESDF pillars: (i) assuring equitable access, (ii) improving quality and relevance, and (iii) strengthening sector governance and performance management. The proposed Program builds directly on and dovetails with the ongoing Basic Education Sector Development Program (BESDP). In particular, it will continue BESDP's support for the phase-in of new curricula for LSE (starting SY2010/11) and USE (from SY2014/15), with policy and investment support to ensure full realization of the benefits of the new 7-year SES.