On 15 September, H.E. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sisouk Vongvichit, Vice Minister of Education and Sports, H.E. Dan Heldon, Chargé d’affaires of Australia in Lao PDR, and H.E. Michelle Outlaw, Chargé d’affaires of the United States of America in Lao PDR, announced a new partnership for the expansion of the Basic Education Quality and Access in Laos PDR 2 (BEQUAL Phase 2) at a primary school in Vientiane Capital.
The Governments of Australia and the United States of America, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), signed the partnership agreement in June 2023 for the expansion of BEQUAL Phase 2. Funding from USAID of US$2.4 million (approximately LAK46.2 billion) will be added to Australia’s investment of AU$30 million (approximately LAK375.2 billion) for increased support for Lao language literacy programs for children who start school not yet able to speak Lao, and for multigrade teaching. This partnership has also enabled the BEQUAL Phase 2 program to establish reading corners for Grades 3, 4 and 5 in all primary schools nationwide. To commemorate the new partnership, the two officials handed over storybooks for reading corners to the Lao Government, represented by the Vice Minister of Education and Sports, who also observed reading activities in the classrooms.
H.E. Dr Sisouk Vongvichit said, “Establishing reading corners in all primary schools is MoES’s priority under the Education and Sports Sector Development Plan 2021-25; the Ministry recognizes the challenges schools face in accessing good quality storybooks in Lao, especially in rural and remote areas. I would like to thank the governments of Australia and the United States of America for their support and shared commitment to literacy development through reading promotion.”
A total of 30,000 sets of 21 different storybooks have been distributed to all grades 3, 4, and 5 classrooms nationwide. Grades 1 and 2 classrooms already received storybooks during the first phase of the BEQUAL Program. In the current school year, 3,265 additional grades 1 and 2 sets of 39 storybooks have been reprinted to replenish stocks in the classrooms of schools that were affected by flooding in 2019. All the storybooks were carefully developed to ensure they represent all Lao people and promote values such as diversity, gender equality, disability, and social inclusion. The storybook set for grade 5 includes a story written by the Ministry of Education and Sports Division for the Advancement of Women, mother and child, and edited and approved by the Research Institute for Educational Sciences. The story promotes the value and importance of girls completing their primary education and continuing to secondary education. It also highlights the importance of community involvement in promoting education for all.
H.E. Dan Heldon added “The objective of the reading corners is to increase access to reading materials and promote a culture of reading among children. Storybooks are important for children and teachers. They are not only entertaining for children, but also stimulate their imagination and language development, increase their knowledge, and help children develop their problem solving skills.”
Chargé d’affaires Outlaw highlighted the expanding partnership between the United States and Lao PDR in basic education. She said, “The United States Government is proud to join the Australian Government in support of the Ministry of Education and Sports to enhance primary education for the children of Laos. Prioritizing literacy skills supported by BEQUAL II is essential for fostering a bright future for young girls and boys.” She continued, “the United States remains committed to preparing Lao children for success.”
The delegation was invited to observe three different classrooms during their reading activities. They appreciated that the young students were actively participating in the class, collaborating with each other, engaging with the learning materials, and using creative and artistic skills to express themselves.