By Hannah Pool
Now, it’s really time for Muck to get ready for school. She has to find her clean school uniform and while her grandmother combs her long hair she talks about what they will do in school today. She is in first grade and is starting to learn how to read and write. She loves it and cannot wait to take her school bag and go off to school to see her friends. One more button on the uniform… Let’s go.
Muck walks to school with her friends who live nearby. The primary school is at the end of their small village which makes it very easy for her and the other children to walk there. The secondary school on the other hand is in the village on the opposite side of the big street and the students have to take their bikes to get to it, which is also one of the reasons why some students fail to complete their education.
Muck’s walk through to school takes her past the wooden, stilted houses that stand high over the village’s main road.
Hand in hand with her friend, Dao, she walks by the small village shop where Aim, the daughter of the owner, runs out and joins her friends. They take a right past a new, concrete house and take a muddy path towards the village wat – a Buddhist temple. Until a few years ago children walked around the temple but gradually a new, shorter path was beaten through the wat to the school.
The three girls walk past small trees and some housing for the orange robed monks, after which they jump a fence to arrive In front of their new school. The new school year has just begun one week ago and has a wonderful surprise for the students: they can now study in a new building.
At the end of 2012 the Rotary Club, a charity organization, began to rebuild the school and now students learn in a new, concrete building.
The old school is still there and to the joy of the children serves now as a little shop that sells sweets and drinks. On special days Muck’s Grandmother gives her 2000 kip (0,25$) to buy some candy.
A lot has changed and the eagerness with which the students work proves the impact the improved school has. Importantly the new school is a symbol of more emphasis on education.
Even though the school is supplied with everything it needs now to give qualified education, the teachers are afraid that they will still face many obstacles when not all students come to school. Students are often needed to help their families with farming so that they cannot spend their time in school, even if they wish to study together with their friends.
In January the land has to be prepared for the rice and then in April and May the rice is planted. Later in November and December it can be harvest and most times kids are needed to help. But even in the months of late September and October it seems harder than expected to give the adequate education to the students.
Now it’s the rainy season and often kids don’t go to school because they know that their teachers also won’t go because of the mud. It is a vicious circle, as teachers say that they would not go because students are not going - it is hard to decide, but in the end the kids are lacking these precious days and sometimes weeks to learn more.
Often, students don’t show up at school after lunch break because they start doing work for their family or prefer to play at home. Muck’s grandmother sends Muck to school every day; she wants her to get a better education than she received. Only two of her daughters completed secondary school and Muck will study to get even further than that if she wants.
The dropout rate is going down but still many students do not finish school, complains Ba the teacher at the elementary school. The teachers know about the struggles that their students have to get to school every day, but they themselves face problems. Until last year the salary for teachers was so low that they all had to have a second job. Sometimes they were the ones who didn’t come to school. Now this will change, as the government just tripled the salary for all educational jobs.
Even though every child in Lao PDR has to go to school, the institutions in the village are too weak to force children to anticipate in school. A result of this is that children like Puck start falling behind and have almost no chance to get back in the educational process.
Before school starts Muck and Dao run to their friends and play down by the little lake. They collect little stones that they use for a game they thought off.
Noy, a 4th grader, is hitting a stick against the metal shield next to the old school door. Bang, Bang, Bang! Three times and all children start to collect their bags and run to their classrooms. Standing outside they have to form a queue and enter the classroom in pairs, greeting their class teacher.
There is a spirit of hope and optimism in the school of Nuun Sawang.: this will be a good new school year!