An ADB-supported education project has been getting some of the poorest children in Lao PDR back into the classroom - and for longer.

PAXANG, Lao PDR ─ Yen Fo wanted desperately to go to school last year. But she did not have the appropriate clothes and her family had no money for school supplies.

The 13-year-old resident of northern Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) has led a hardscrabble existence in recent years. Her father died 5 years ago and her mother supports her and her two sisters by working as a day laborer.

She is attending school now because a village education development committee helped Yen Fo and other children from the poorest families in the village to resume their educations.

"I am excited to come to school every day," she says. "I have many friends here and going to school is the best opportunity for me and my family."

One of the school administrators notes about her: "She only has two skirts, one shirt, and one pair of shoes but she has a perfect attendance record."

Access to education

Yen Fo's second chance at schooling came about through the Second Education Quality Improvement Project, which was supported by a concessionary $23 million loan from ADB and a $15 million grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The project, which ran from March 2002 to June 2010, was implemented by the Lao PDR Ministry of Education. The project contributed to poverty reduction by improving the quality of education in the country. This included expanding access to education, particularly for girls, and helping to keep them in school longer.

Under the project, village development committees - like the one that assisted Yen Fo - encourage parents to send their kids to school and provide support to the poorest families.

"Gender and ethnic support and activities were employed during the project," says Khamtanh Chanthy, a senior project officer with ADB's Lao Resident Mission. "The project is credited with increasing the national girls' enrollment rate to 91.7% in 2009/2010 from 81.2% in 2005/2006."

At the Paxang Primary School in Paxang village in northern Lao PDR, school principal Sinsay Phengleu can attest to the changes brought about by the project.

The small school serves a diverse population of ethnic groups making up 127 households. Since 2008, enrollment has increased from 85% to 100%. The school also offers day care or preschool, which is unusual in rural Lao PDR. This has freed up parents to work during the day. It also means women do not have to take their children to the fields with them.

Women and girls are well represented in the school, says school principal Phengleu. Of the 182 students enrolled, 89 are girls. Four out of the six teachers are women.

Making the grade

Enrollment in primary education in the school has increased partly by expanding the number of grades offered in the school. When the school only offered a few early grades, children dropped out because they needed to travel far from home to continue their educations. Under the project, a large number of primary schools were upgraded to include five grades. This allows children to stay longer and complete their primary school closer to home.

Community awareness programs supported under the project increased enrollment. Villagers were helped to understand that school attendance was mandatory for both boys and girls, and that assistance would be provided to those who needed it. Traditionally, when a family's income falls, daughters are pulled out of school first so that sons can continue their educations.

"This situation of pulling girls out of school has changed," says school principal Phengleu. "Now, all children go to school. There is no difference between boys and girls."