Since 2015, Australia has been supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR (MoES) via the BEQUAL program. This week, the BEQUAL Steering Committee was held in Vientiane to reflect on the achievements of the first five years and endorse the new implementation plan with additional Australian funding until June 2022. The Steering Committee was chaired by H.E. Madam Khanthaly Siriphongphanh, Vice Minister for Education and Sports of Lao PDR (MoES), and co-chaired by H.E. Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Australian Ambassador to Lao PDR. Invitees included senior managers from MoES relevant departments, the eight Teacher Training Colleges (TTC), the eighteen Provincial Education and Sports Services, Provincial Vice-Governors of the six target provinces and representatives from the European Union and USAID who co-funded BEQUAL in the first five year to August 2020.
The Committee acknowledged the significant progress achieved during the program’s first five years and the ability of the program to successfully adapt to required changes in implementation such as challenges arising from the COVID-19 situation. Many activities were fully completed such as the national implementation of the Grade 1 and 2 improved primary curriculum materials, the development and trialing of the improved pre-service primary teacher curriculum, including a module on inclusive education, the successful graduation of 359 ethnic teacher students who are now deployed in their local communities, the infrastructure upgrading of 582 schools in 45 disadvantaged districts of 9 provinces, the implementation of literacy development, WASH and disability inclusion projects in 171 villages through an NGO consortium and the piloting of 15 innovative grant funded education projects.
The overall budget for the first five years was AUD$66.5 million, with Australia contributing AUD$46.6 million, the European Union €11.5 million and the US State Department US$1.8 million. The activities reached over 427,000 beneficiaries including 395,521 students, 29,022 educators and 3,152 education managers.
The Committee discussed the priorities ahead: the focus will be primary curriculum development, teacher professional development and integration of gender and inclusive education principles and practices. These priorities align with MoES’ 9th Education and Sports Strategic Development Plan 2021-2025. Australia, through its BEQUAL program, will continue to support MoES with a budget of AUD 13,8 million in this next phase of 22 months. The additional funding increases the overall funding of BEQUAL to more than 80 million AUD.
The Committee pointed out that COVID-19 restrictions created a window of opportunity to work differently by organizing workshops and meetings online; but the situation also highlighted some difficulties faced by the MoES, lacking equipment and training.
During the lockdown, Australia supported the Ministry in this new way of working and supplied laptops and provided basic capacity building for using online platforms. During the Steering Committee, the Australian Embassy handed over 10 full videoconferencing sets to representatives of the 8 TTC, the Department of Teacher Education (DTE) and the Teacher Development Center. This equipment will enable improved remote collaboration and activities between DTE and TTCs. DTE is very keen to streamline meetings, consultations, and workshops online, to save on cost and travel time and increase efficiency. The ability to conduct meetings and workshops online will also allow DTE and TTCs to continue their work in case of COVID-19 related travel restrictions.