New School Strengthens Village Education
“In this new school, the children can continue working even if it rains. In the building, we had to stop classes if there were strong winds or heavy rain” Mr Khamnga, Teacher, Pathoung Primary School.
Mr Khamnga is a veteran infant school teacher in Khammouane province, central Laos. The school at Pathoung village is the sixth he has worked in, and is without doubt he says, the best by far.
“We have a proper building here, with a good roof and solid walls. We have fans in the classrooms for the hot season, working windows and doors so the place is clean and secure when everyone goes home. There is running water and toilets. All this means the children like coming to school, and so they are easy to teach”.
The school was built by NTPC in 2007, as part of compensation provided to villagers living close to the infrastructure built for the Nam Theun 2 Multi-Purpose Project. Transmission lines carry the electricty generated by the project past the village and too close to the old school for NTPC safety standards.
The previous building had only two usable classrooms, and these lacked side walls. Only three grades were taught, by two teachers, but since NTPC invested in the new building the provincial authority has ensured a full complement of teachers at the school, offering a complete five-grade primary education. The new school also offers increased safety for the children: the fenced playground in front of the classrooms was cleared of the unexploded ordnance so common in this part of Laos, and the new location is less prone to flooding.
According to another teacher, Miss Maipheng, attendance has increased with the new school and the basic education rate in the village is streadily climbing. “This is a rural situation, and there are still challenges”, she explains. “While nearly all the children in the village now go to school, not all of them complete the full five years – we still lose some in the last year as they go to work in the family fields”. However, the school is also used for community activities and awareness of the importance of education is gradally improving.
One of the benefits of the new school is that more girls are studying than before. With separate toilets for boys and girls, enough teachers and solid walls, the school is more attractive to girls and the gender gap that is often seen in rural education has closed. In fact, there are more girls than boys enrolled at Phathoung.
Bounoum, though, is an 11-year-old boy in his final year at primary school. He clearly remembers the old school, and is acutely aware of the advantages of the new one. “We have more teachers and better facilities now”, he grins. We have better classes and I enjoy coming everyday”. Next year Bounoum will move to secondary school in a neighbouring village. “I hope it’s as good here” he says.