According to the 2017 Lao Social Indicator Survey II, 2% of children aged 2 to 4 have functional difficulty in at least one domain (seeing, hearing, walking, fine motor, communicating, learning, playing, controlling behaviour). And this percentage increases with remoteness and poverty. Children with severe disabilities are usually kept at home, and often ‘hidden’ to the outside world, due to stigma and discrimination. Factors such as gender, ethnicity, poverty, distance to school or physical access to classrooms and bathroom facilities constitute other barriers to the education of children with disabilities.
Recognizing those challenges, MoES and the Australian Embassy organized a joint event on December 15th to create awareness and understanding within the Ministry for the importance of primary education for children living with disabilities and take action to close the gap in educational outcomes. The event was chaired by PhD. Mr. Bounpanh Xaymountry, Director General of Department of Planning, Ministry of Education and Sports of Lao PDR and by Mrs Jane Chandler, Charge d’ Affaires, Australian Embassy to Lao PDR. Among the 80 participants were director generals and representatives from the different departments of the Ministry as well as relevant development partners and disabled people’s organisations.
“This event demonstrates a joint commitment; the Ministry of Education will continue to work in partnership with Australia, in particular on increasing inclusion of education for children with disabilities in all aspects of education” said the Minister in her opening remarks.
Australian Charge d’ Affaires, Mrs Jane Chandler highlighted the achievements and future plans in Inclusive Education with an emphasis on access for all children. She said “The Australian Government is proud of its support to the Ministry of Education and Sports to promote inclusive education through primary curriculum development, teaching and learning materials. With BEQUAL, we worked closely with the Ministry of Education and Sports to ensure curriculum materials are inclusive and represent all Lao people, including girls and boys, ethnic children and children with disabilities. We also provided scholarships to ethnic teachers and conducted a Spoken Lao language pilot to provide more Lao language support to children who spoke Lao as a second language. We also supported the development process of School Construction Guidelines that contain guidance on disability inclusive design and gender equity.”
The participants listened to several inspiring stories of people living with disabilities: Mrs Phatsala Insalong, successful owner of a printing shop employing only people with disabilities, Mrs Latsami Sipaseuth, para Powerlifting athlete training for the Tokyo Paralympics Games, Mr. Vilaphone Phouthavongsay, para cycling athlete training for Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2021, and Ms Inpeng Vilayhong, Disability Champion of “Make Inclusion Real” project. They inspired the audience and showed high achievement for people with disabilities is possible when given the right opportunity and support.
During the panel discussion, experts from the Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College, Vientiane Special Education School, Xiengkhouang Provincial Education and sports Service, and Disabled People’s Association provided examples of the role of education as the foundation of a successful life for children with disabilities. The Minister encouraged the audience to “be inspired by the stories and discussions you heard today to do more to support children of all abilities through your work, your advocacy and in your daily life”.
With today’s event, MoES, with the support of Australia, has shown its commitment to consider the needs of children with disabilities as they write the new primary curriculum and as they train, deploy and support teachers.