The learning environment matters in ensuring the safety of young students, their well-being at school and importantly, the quality of the learning and teaching.
That’s why a key priority for BEQUAL last year was the rehabilitation of classrooms and toilets in 389 primary schools in 21 of the poorest districts in Phongsaly, Houaphan, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha, Sekong and Attapeu provinces.
These schools are in very remote locations, with some only accessible by foot. This makes sourcing construction materials and maintaining buildings difficult.
“Many school repairs were needed, as original construction sometimes used poor quality materials. For example, school roofs had leaks because the correct roof sheeting may not have been available during construction. So we replaced all rusted sheeting”, explains Suliyarn Viengkhamsone, BEQUAL’s senior infrastructure technical supervisor.
“The team replaced dirt floors with concrete where possible, making the classrooms cleaner, more pleasant and healthier places for children to learn. We also added access ramps where necessary and checked that the doors were wide enough for wheelchairs” adds Suliyarn.
“The original blackboards were made from painted plywood making writing difficult. With this climate and the low quality of the material used, the surface of those blackboards quickly came off. We replaced the damaged ones with new painted metal blackboards making them easier to write on and read from” says Daovone Siheuangxay, BEQUAL’s infrastructure manager.
At some schools, toilets became unusable because of failed water supply systems. The repairs ensured students and teachers have access to appropriate and operational toilet facilities.
The repairs were undertaken using a community-based contracting model, where the Village Education Development Committee manages the repairs using paid community labour supervised by BEQUAL engineers and District Education and Sports Bureau (DESB) staff, rather than using external contractors.
“This community approach builds ownership of the school by the community” said Mr Thipphamonh Chanthalangsy, Former Head of Education Construction and Design Management Division at the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The DESB staff and BEQUAL Engineers visited all 389 schools to provide financial and technical training to the Village Education and Development Committees with more than 4,000 villagers trained. “In addition to being a cost effective approach, the additional village capacity ensures that skills stay within the village, improving the sustainability and the community’s ability to maintain their school in the future.” concludes Mr Thipphamonh.
Teachers and students in 389 schools located in remote and disadvantaged communities now have a safe, hygienic, inclusive and well equipped classroom!