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Northern Laos is a challenging place to run an education system. The mountainous region is made up of dozens of different ethnic groups, speaking more than 100 different languages and dialects. Access is difficult and during the monsoon season remote areas can be completely inaccessible. 

The Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is committed to improving access to quality education. To help with this the World Bank financed a project to improve the country’s early childhood education system and promote the development of children living in disadvantaged villages.

Professor Sally Brinkman and her team conducted an impact evaluation to understand the benefits of delivering different models of early childhood education across almost 400 villages throughout the poorest regions of Northern Lao PDR.

The focus was on comparing two main types of early education: community-based playgroup sessions for children aged 3 and 4, run by a local caregiver in a purpose-built hut; and a more formal pre-school setting which welcomed 3- and 4-year-olds into existing 5-year-old preschool classes, run by a trained teacher.

Evaluation results showed improved access to early childhood education, resulting in a dramatic increase in attendance. Before the project, fewer than 25 per cent of children had attended early education – a figure which increased to 80 per cent as a result of the project.

Both types of early education were found to have benefits for the children’s early development, however it was the sessions run by the community, outside of the formal education system, which showed greater improvements in a range of different areas.

“Since the project started, we’ve seen policy shifts within the government to try and bring early education underneath the Education Act,” Professor Brinkman said.

The Government of Lao PDR has now made further investment into both playgroup and formal preschool early education programs to ensure their sustainability in future.

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