The National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education 2011-2015 defines Inclusive education as the provision of quality education, continuously and appropriately adapted to the characteristics, capabilities and diverse needs of all learners. The approach focuses on addressing barriers to accessing quality education by creating friendly, safe, and protective environments for all, without discrimination.
Special education needs
A definition of special educational needs has not been found. The National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education 2011-2015 provides an operational definition of learners with special needs, including girls, women, ethnic children, learners with disabilities, those living in remote areas, and people of especially vulnerable populations.
Up to 1992, when a special school for children with visual and hearing impairments was established in Vientiane, education provision was absent for children with special needs. Since 2011, with the adoption of the National Policy on Inclusive Education, many children with disabilities have been enrolled in inclusive education schools. However, special schools are maintained for students with complex disabilities. Particular attention has been paid to provide learners with disabilities with a vocational education through the building of vocational training centers with a suitable curriculum.
At present, three special schools provide education for children with disabilities in Luang Prabang province, Vientiane Capital, and Savannakhet, under the management of the Ministry of Health (MoH).
Ordinary ethnic primary and secondary schools are active in all provinces to accommodate learners belonging to ethnic groups residing in remote areas. As of 2017, they are 20 throughout the country.
Early identification, screening and assessment
Examination and diagnosing of disabilities in children aged 0-18 years is under the responsibility of the Center for Medical Rehabilitation (CMR).
The Constitution, amended in 2003, compels the state and the society to “create opportunities and favorable conditions in education for all people throughout the country, especially people in remote areas, ethnic groups, women and disadvantaged children” (art.22). The Education Law, revised in 2015 raises the age of compulsory education to at least 14 years and makes primary and lower secondary education compulsory.
The National Plan of Action on Education for All 2003-2015, the National Education System Reform Strategy for 2006-2015, the Education Sector Development Framework 2009-2015 and the Education Development Plan 2011-2015 provide a comprehensive approach to inclusive inclusion. They guided the equitable provision of quality education among disadvantaged groups, especially girls and women, ethnic groups, people with disabilities and people in socio-economic difficulties. They laid the foundation for the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive education 2011-2015, addressing disparities and ensuring gender equality, parity among ethnic groups and among learners with disabilities and across districts.
Supporting education access and completion of primary education without discrimination by gender, ethnicity, disability and socio-economic disadvantages is also the top priority of the current Education Sector Development Plan 2016-2020.
The 2003 Decree on Persons with Disabilities laid down the right of children with disabilities to receive education on an equal basis with their peers (art.14) and dedicated a specific provision to Inclusive Education. It set the obligation for the State to develop an inclusive education system and to establish schools and educational institutions that guarantee “reasonable accommodation” to persons with disabilities, including adequate classrooms and education premises, an appropriate curriculum, supportive teaching and learning materials (art. 20).
The Education Law sets out the establishment of special Schools for People with serious disabilities, while it calls for favoring enrollment in local regular schools for those with light disabilities as well as for mobilizing resources to invest in the establishment of inclusive education schools (art. 14). It also compels the state to provide scholarships for students with disabilities (art. 24).
The government of Lao PDR ratified the UNCRPD in 2009, and established the National Commission for Disabled Persons to monitor the implementation of the Convention. The National Education System Reform Strategy (NESRS) 2006-2015, that paved the way to the adoption of the Inclusive education policy, committed to improving and promoting inclusive education for “disabled children” by building and equipping facilities for inclusive education and by setting up special schools for “badly disabled children”. The Education Sector Development Framework 2009‐2015 acknowledged that the needs of children with severe disabilities are poorly catered for in the national education system. Therefore, it recommended undertaking a major policy study to address the issue and promote their access to education.
Despite the endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Inclusive Education, the Education Sector Development Plan 2011-2015 recognized the difficulties in mobilizing supporting national budget for its implementation. By contrast, the Education for All Fast Track Initiative Programme (EFA-FTI), jointly funded by AusAID and GPE, with the World Bank, supports the actual implementation of inclusive approaches. The current ESDP 2016-2020 addresses the need to develop an instrument to identify children with disabilities, both in and out of school, as the actual number of children with disabilities as well as the frequency of each disability type is not currently recorded in EMIS.
The 2003 Decree on Persons with Disabilities reaffirmed the equal legal capacity of men and women with disabilities (art. 12). The 2004 Law on Development and Protection of Women promoted the education as part of the process of the women’s development by creating the necessary conditions within which women can receive basic education and training in physical and social sciences (art. 11).
In line with the existing legal framework, the National Strategy on the Promotion of Education for Girls and the Advancement of Women in the Education Sector Plan 2006-2010 aimed to enhance gender equality by promote women and girls access to upgrading education. Particular attention was paid to ethnic girls in poor and disadvantaged areas. The Education Sector Development Framework 2009-2015 supported the 2006 Gender and Ethnic Groups Development Plan within the Basic Education Sector Development Programme promoted by the Asian Development Bank.
The national Education Sector Development Plan 2011-2015 called for the activation of the Inclusive Education network and of the Gender Inclusion and Disability Technical Working Group to foster collaboration among various departments and to advocate for mainstreaming inclusive education at all education levels. As acknowledged by the ESDP 2016-2020, improvements in gender parity have been constrained by limited awareness and acceptance. The Plan therefore reaffirmed the necessity to draw system-wide attention to the needs of out-of-school children, adolescents and young people, including girls and women, persons with disabilities, and child laborers.
As an example of implementation measure, the Lao Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour established the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center (LDWDC) in 2002 to provide vocational education and training for women with disabilities from the various provinces of the country.
Ethnic and language groups and Indigenous groups
Extending distance learning for disadvantaged or minority groups and teaching Lao language to ethnic minority children as a second language were parts of the recommendations enlisted in the Education Strategic Vision 2020. The National Education System Reform Strategy (NESRS) 2006-2015 set out among its objectives the promotion of learning opportunities for persons belonging to ethnic groups through a better knowledge of the official national language, which remains the medium of instruction in public schools.
People living in rural or remote areas
Laos’ government commits to ensuring access to primary and secondary education to all, including children living in remote areas. This is affirmed in the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan 2016-2020 (NSEDP) and in the ESDP 2016-2020 through the Child Schooling Opportunity Expansion Programme. Isolated rural schools are entitled to receive a specific allowance to compensate higher costs associated with their functioning.
To reduce the cost of education, the Minister of Education and Sports abolished the education fees for pre-schools, primary and secondary education with the Order and Recommendation No. 1293/2012. The Ministerial Decision No. 1679/2014 implemented the Policy on promoting School Lunch with the aim of providing proper nutrition and promoting attendance and retention at all education levels, especially in the rural and remote areas and in districts affected by malnutrition.
A school meal programme was initiated under the under the Education for All: Fast Track Initiative for the period 2010-2014 in 56 priority districts of the country. The ESDP 2011-2015, defined as “pro-poor “plan, aimed to reduce disparities in those districts considered as educationally disadvantaged through for instance school feeding and food supplement programs, scholarships and school and village block grants.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Planning and Investment, with the support of UNICEF, conducted the Out of School Children Initiative to identify suitable strategies to ensure that all children complete the full cycle of basic education. According to the Schools of Quality approach, the Ministry of Education carried out a study of the Village Education Development Committees to better understand how communities may be strengthened to support children’s retention and completion of basic education.
Cooperation across sectors
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the operation and management of special schools, providing education to learners with disabilities in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES). According to the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive education, the Ministry of Education and Sports takes on a leading role in coordinating with other line ministries, local administrations and subnational units for the implementation of the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education.
Cooperation and networking are part of the strategic principle of the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education, which intends to ensure that all inclusive education stakeholders are involved in the implementation the policy. For example, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) is in charge of information dissemination and awareness campaigns, while the Inclusive Education Center provides technical assistance, including, among others, the revision of teacher training materials, school regulations, and the development of the Lao sign language.
The Inclusive Education and Advancement of Women Network is involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education and reports to the Minister of Education and Sport.
Cooperation across government levels
Following the decentralization process started in 2002, the Ministry of Education and Sports shares responsibilities with the Provincial Education Services (PES) and the District Education Bureau (DEB). The Three Build Policy outlined the responsibilities and roles of the central education administration and of the subnational level units. The province maintains a strategic role, the district unit holds planning and management responsibilities, while the village acts as development unit.
In 2013, the Ministry of Education and Sports empowered schools and communities to develop their annual school development plan (SDP) within the Education Quality Standard Framework for primary schools. The revised Education Law 2015 defined rights and obligations of the education administration units according to a school-based management (art.86).
The Education Sector Development Plan (ESDP) 2016-2020 intends to further develop local capacity and compliance with central policy directions to improve the implementation of the decentralization process. Decentralization of authority and accountability, capacity building and awareness-raising have been identified as strategic principles contributing to addressing causes of exclusion from education and to the successful implementation of the National Policy on Inclusive Education.
Aligned with the MoE’s programme on Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction in the Education Sector and the provisions of the 2003 Decree on Persons with Disabilities, the 2009 School Infrastructure guidelines regulates the design of schools infrastructure. “Good schools” provide adequate spaces for child-friendly, inclusive and enabling learning environments, accommodating children with physical, mental and learning disabilities. In practice, schools need to have an accessible entrance to people with disabilities and separate toilets or latrines for girls and boys. The guidelines also take into account the need of flexibility in designing schools in remote areas.
The necessity to ensure healthy, safe and protective schools and boarding facilities at all levels of education is reaffirmed in the National Policy on Inclusive Education (Strategy 5), which calls for protective places also in terms of adequate infrastructure for girls, women, ethnic children, learners with disabilities, for those living in remote areas, and people of especially vulnerable populations.
Continued curricular reform and provision of learning and teaching materials supportive of inclusive education, suitable to the special needs of all learners at all education levels are among the priorities of the National Policy on Inclusive Education, specifically for girls, women, ethnic children, learners with disabilities and those living in remote areas, and for vulnerable populations.
Aligned with the 2009 revision of the primary education curriculum, an enhanced ECCE school readiness curriculum has been developed as part of a comprehensive inclusive education curriculum within village and community‐based ECCE programmes.
The ESDP 2016-2020 intends to develop and provide teaching and learning materials for teaching Lao language to ethnic groups and to learners with disabilities. The National Policy on Inclusive Education aims to provide the latter with specific devices and technical assistance to encourage their inclusion in regular schools.
To address the scarce availability of textbooks in classrooms across the country, the MoES, UNICEF and Australian Department of Foreign Aid and Trade (DFAT) implemented the Textbook Management System Strengthening (TMSS) partnership between 2014 and 2016 to support the planning, procurement, printing, storage, distribution, maintenance and classroom care of textbooks and materials.
In line with the National Education System Reform Strategy, the Teacher Education Strategy and Action Plan 2010-2015 aimed to solve the problem of teacher shortages by strengthening pre-service and in-service training. To address the remaining challenges emerged in the 2013-mid term review of the Strategy, the Education Sector Development Plan 2016-2020 intends to develop a system of continuous professional development of teachers on including inclusive education and to provide them with pedagogical skills in order to address learners with diverse learning needs, such as ethnic, gender and children with special needs.
In addition, the National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education 2011-2015 aims to promote an inclusive recruitment of women teachers, educators belonging to ethnic groups, and who have disabilities (Strategy 7). In particular, it calls for training, employing, and incentive provision to especially female ethnic teachers to teach in their hometowns.
The Education Strategic Vision 2020, first and then National Strategy and Plan of Action on Inclusive Education 2011-2015, highlighted the need to develop action plans for teacher training on dealing with learners from ethnic groups. The necessity to develop guidelines, training, and deployment strategies for mobilizing teachers to conduct teaching-learning in remote areas was also addressed.
Other aims are to train and upgrade teacher educators, education administrators and other educational personnel for the implementation of inclusive education. In this respect, teacher training on the assessment of the special needs of learners and on the adoption of appropriate response through teaching techniques and assistance (especially for learners with disabilities and belonging to ethnic groups) are included as priority action areas.
The Ministry of Education and Sports provides annual education reports.
Based on a computerized Education Management Information System established in 1991, summary statistics and selected indicators are provided to Lao Statistics Bureau (LSB) and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Data by EFA goals, by education level, and by regions are also available online on the Lao EduInfo database.
In designing the interactive programme to connect the new EMIS to the Personnel Management Information System (PMIS) and the Financial Management Information System (FMIS), the collection of inclusive education indicators was discussed. The AUSAid, UNICEF, World bank and the MoES are collectively working on a system to collect statistics related to inclusive education. While the National Policy on Inclusive Education calls for strengthening the system by ensuring that data is disaggregated by gender, ethnicity, disabilities, poverty levels, the ESDP 2016-2020 reports that the number of out-of-school children with disabilities and the type of disabilities are not recorded in EMIS.