Literacy and schools


In the National Population and Housing Census of 2005, literacy was assessed by asking everybody aged 6 years and over if they could read and write Lao.  The answer required a simple “Yes” or “No”. In order to correctly assess literacy it is usual to carry out both reading and writing tests so the measure of literacy rates based on the census information should be considered as fairly crude. Nevertheless, the percentages of the literate population older than 15 years of age are very similar to those of recent special surveys on literacy. Moreover, the figures are comparable to those of the Lao Expenditure and Consumption Survey III (LECS III) carried out in 2002/2003.

The official national average literacy rate for the population aged ≥15 years is 72.7% but there are substantial differences between women and men, urban and rural populations and different ethno-linguistic groups. These will be illustrated in the subsequent maps of this chapter.

This map presents two types of information. On one hand literacy rates are depicted as the percentage of the village population who are literate. Different shadings of green indicate rates from less than 20% to more than 80%. Furthermore, the markers represent the location of villages that are reported as having a primary school. Pink markers denominate primary schools offering only grades 1 to 3, whereas purple markers denominate primary schools offering grades 1 to 5. It should, however, be noted that no information can be provided on the status of these schools, the availability of teachers, their salaries, etc.

We see that areas with high literacy rates are found in and around major urban centres and provincial capitals, and along the Mekong River. The southern part of Xayabury stands out as a rural area where one finds high literacy rates. Furthermore, the provinces of Xiengkhuang and Huaphanh have in general quite high literacy rates. Conversely, the northern parts of Phongsaly, Luangnamtha and the eastern parts of Khammuane and Savannakhet provinces have a serious literacy problem. It is interesting to overlay this map with the distribution of ethno-linguistic families shown in Map F.2.

The distribution of primary schools in general reflects the different literacy rates throughout the country and along the major axes of transportation. Yet, the exceptions to this pattern are very interesting. In Phongsaly, Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, and eastern Savannakhet we observe a reasonable density of schools but very low literacy rates. This suggests that low literacy is often not a problem related to hardware, i.e. school infrastructure, but rather a problem of software, i.e. teachers’ availability, qualifications  and salaries, curricula, language of instruction, levels of poverty and cultural aspects, etc. The following Map D.2 will provide more information on this.




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