Ethnicity and Education in Lao PDR

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The 2005 census in Laos showed that fertility rates were declining but with ethnic variation. That has important impacts on education participation.

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Ethnicity and Participation in Primary Education: Some Statistical Results from the 2005 CensusRichard Noonan The Lao PDR is a multi-ethnic nation, with nearly 50 officially recognised ethnolinguistic groups. Its government is committed to achieving quality basic education for all. Collectively, the Lao-Tai ethno-linguistic group represents 65% of the population according to the 2005 census. Recent demographic trends, however, are bringing about change in the ethno-linguistic distribution. These changes are increasingly visible in schools and will have important policy implications for development of the education system.

quity, quality, and efficiency are the major pillars of Lao education policy (for the most current policy overview and progress assessment, see MOE, 2007). The ability of young children to understand and benefit from instruction is an important aspect of quality that must be taken into account if universal basic education targets Education for All (EFA) goal 2 and MDG 2 are to be achieved. Laos has a rich ethno-linguistic diversity, and more than 30% of children have a mother tongue other than the national language, Lao. This presents a complex challenge to the education authorities, whose duty is to ensure that all children, regardless of the language used in the home, can benefit from primary school instruction.

Scope and MethodologyData This paper briefly describes the ethno-linguistic context of primary schooling in the Lao PDR, presenting statistical results from the 2005 census and recent results from the Ministry of Education (MOE) annual school census. This article is purely descriptive and focuses on the statistical association between ethnicity, primary school participation, and reported literacy in the Lao language. The census results are based on the authors analysis of the data for all children aged 0-16 years. The MOE data is based mainly on either 2004/05 or 2005/06 data, with some reference to earlier figures. Reference is also made to the Lao National Literacy Survey conducted in 2000. In the 2005 census, the following questions on education and training were asked (valid responses in parenthesis): Variable 11: Can [name, person of age over 6 years] read and write Lao? (Yes / No / No answer); Variable 12: Has [name] ever attended school? (No, never / At school / Left school / No answer); Variable 13: What is [name]s highest level of education? (No education / Grade 1 / Grade 2 / Grade 3 / Grade 4 / Grade 5 / Grade 6 / Lower secondary 1 / Lower secondary 2 / Lower secondary 3 / Upper secondary 1 / Upper secondary 2 / Upper secondary 3 / Dont know); Variable 14: What is [name]s highest level of vocational education? (First level / Middle level / High or university / Post graduate / Other / Dont know).

Statistical combinations of data from these variables, together with gender, age, and ethnicity, provide a rich source of information about the relationship between ethnicity and education. A small portion of this richness is reported here. Problems of Ethno-Linguistic Classification In a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic context, policy-making leading to successful nation-building is crucially dependent on agreed and factually correct ethno-linguistic classification that shows respect for the linguistic diversity, cultural values and human rights of all groups, as declared in the 1991 Constitution. Collection of education statistics by ethno-linguistic group is problematic because the administrative classification system which, in the absence of careful and systematic ethno-linguistic evidence, has been in use at least since the 1950s, is not based on ethno-linguistic features. That system labelled the peoples of Laos under three major categories, based on the topographical distribution the groups were believed to display at the time: Lao Loum (the lowland Lao, now representing some 65% of the population); Lao Theung (the upland or midland Lao, now accounting for roughly 23% of the population); 1

Lao Soung (the highland Lao or hill tribes, now representing nearly 11% of the population).

These elevation-related figures are, of course, imprecise and reflect only general tendencies. Moreover, individuals and whole villages migrate, and some communities have lived for generations at the wrong elevation. The population percentages are based on figures from the 2005 census. This classification was originally adopted partly for political purposes, to show that all ethnic groups were part of the Lao nation. It was abandoned in the 1991 constitution, and the 1992 Central Party Resolution on Ethnic Minorities recommended that these topographical categories should no longer be used. The 2005 census (GOL, 2006) lists 49 groups, as shown in Table 2 below. The categorisation of these groups is not standardised. Hopefully future censuses will use, as a minimum, the four main ethno-linguistic groups as classified on the Ministry of Information and Culture website (MOIC, 2007) and shown in Table 2, as a basis for ethnolinguistic categories. Beginning with the 2007/08 school census, the MOE will use these four main ethnolinguistic categories. As a first approximation, for those familiar with the old Lao government system, Lao Loum represents the Lao-Tai sub-group of the Austro-Tai linguistic family. Lao Theung represents the Mon-Khmer sub-group of the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, and Lao Soung represents the Hmong-Yao Mien category sub-group of the Austro-Tai linguistic family plus the Tibeto-Burman and Sinitic sub-groups of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. Whereas the old Lao Loum category is a relatively homogeneous category linguistically, the Lao Soung category is particularly heterogeneous. This paper uses both census data and MOE data to show some general trends, however, and in Table 4 these two data sets have been combined by re-categorising the census data.

Findings: Changing TimesThe Ethnicity and Language Context The ethno-linguistic context of the Lao PDR is more complex than in many other countries. The columns on the left side of Table 2 give the distribution of the total population by linguistic category based on the 49 ethnic groups defined for the 2005 census. The columns on the right show the distribution of the population aged 0-16 years. The figures in the last column (%) are shaded and italicized if the percent distribution in the age 0-16 population is greater than the percent distribution in the total population. They are bold and italicized if the difference is greater than one percentage point. Declining Fertility Rates One of the most profound but quiet changes occurring in Laos over the past decade has been the decline in fertility rates, which was found in the 2005 census and the Lao Reproductive Health Survey 2005 to be substantially faster than had been anticipated. It had been observed in recent years in some of the major towns that the number of primary school teachers required was declining, because enrolments were declining, because the number of school age children was declining, because fertility rates were declining.

Ethnicity and Declining Fertility Rates by Ethnic Composition The magnitude of the decline on the national level was surprising, but at least as significant as the overall decline was its geographic and (by implication) ethnic composition. In urban areas (where the Lao-Tai are the predominant ethnic Area of Fertility group), the fertility rate seems to have stabilised at just over 2.04. This is close to residence rate fertility rates in Europe and possibly, given the relatively high mortality rate, even Urban 2.04 below the population replacement rate in Laos. In rural on road areas, the Rural, on road 3.70 fertility rate is still relatively high at 3.70. In rural off road areas (i.e. in remote Rural, off road 4.74 and often ethnic group communities), the fertility rate is still very high at 4.74. There is thus an obvious, if complex and diffuse, link with ethnicity. This will have significant implications for education development policy, because it is essentially rural off-road communities into which primary education must expand if universal basic education is to be achieved. Provision of school inputs in such communities, especially the services of qualified teachers, has so far proven difficult. Table 1: Fertility rates in Laos by location

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Table 2: Population by gender and ethnicity, total and aged 0-16Code Ethnic group Male Lao-Tai linguistic sub-group 1 Lao 1,528,269 2 Tai 108,257 3 Phoutai 91,634 4 Lue 61,100 5 Nyouan 14,493 6 Yang 3,101 7 Xaek 1,799 8 Tai Neua 7,382 Total 1,816,035 Mon-Khmer sub-group 9 Khmou 10 Phai 11 Xing Moul 12 Phong 13 Thaen 14 Oedou 15 Bit 16 Lamet 17 Samtao 18 Katang 19 Makong 20 Tri 21 Yrou 22 Tariang 23 Ta Oy 24 Yaeh 25 Brao 26 Katou 27 Halak 28 Oy 29 Kriang 30 Cheng 31 Sedang 32 Suay 33 Nya Heun 34 Lavi 35 Pacoh 36 Khmer 37 Toum 38 Ngouan 39 Moy 40 Kri Total Tibeto-Burman sub-group 41 Ahka 42 Singsily 43 Lahou 44 Sila 45 Hanyi 46 Lolo 47 Ho Total Hmong-Yao sub-group 48 Hmong 49 LewmienYao Total Other / o answer 50 Other 51 No answer 306,875 10,843 4,354 13,171 248 329 1,014 9,460 1,761 58,366 57,823 13,130 23,009 14,356 16,156 5,274 11,134 11,179 10,449 11,083 6,375 3,699 467 20,792 3,430 608 8,242 2,882 2,252 339 277 249 629,626 45,563 18,554 7,619 1,517 427 836 5,317 79,833 227,689 13,875 241,564 6,418 27,075 Total population Female Total 1,538,736 106,997 95,757 61,954 14,949 3,059 1,934 7,417 1,830,803 307,018 11,079 4,211 13,143 266 320 950 10,367 1,772 59,910 60,019 13,550 24,166 14,778 16,021 5,296 11,638 11,580 10,831 11,375 6,504 3,860 471 22,042 3,355 585 8,508 2,943 2,206 383 257 246 639,650 45,135 18,893 7,619 1,422 421 855 5,120 79,465 224,257 13,574 237,831 6,114 27,568 3,067,005 215,254 187,391 123,054 29,442 6,160 3,733 14,799 3,646,838 613,893 21,922 8,565 26,314 514 649 1,964 19,827 3,533 118,276 117,842 26,680 47,175 29,134 32,177 10,570 22,772 22,759 21,280 22,458 12,879 7,559 938 42,834 6,785 1,193 16,750 5,825 4,458 722 534 495 1,269,276 90,698 37,447 15,238 2,939 848 1,691 10,437 159,298 451,946 27,449 479,395 12,532 54,643 % 54.6 3.8 3.3 2.2 0.5 0.1 0.1 0.3 64.9 10.9 0.4 0.2 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.1 2.1 2.1 0.5 0.8 0.5 0.6 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 22.6 1.6 0.7 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.2 2.8 8.0 0.5 8.5 0.2 1.0 Male 630,411 49,957 42,502 23,096 5,487 1,308 857 3,078 756,696 150,813 5,537 2,245 6,465 131 180 492 4,644 838 30,674 29,697 6,344 11,904 7,250 8,132 2,607 5,413 5,720 5,439 5,757 3,198 1,872 213 10,553 1,846 300 4,218 1,485 1,158 160 110 136 315,531 22,650 7,973 3,674 789 204 416 2,466 38,172 128,449 6,839 135,288 2,843 16,350 Population aged 0-16 Female Total 612,395 47,958 41,994 22,609 5,437 1,308 900 2,972 735,573 147,779 5,422 2,023 6,490 115 151 427 4,815 806 30,200 29,655 6,282 12,067 7,071 7,836 2,571 5,400 5,830 5,222 5,472 3,174 1,771 212 10,563 1,707 264 4,263 1,454 1,055 165 115 105 310,482 21,557 7,872 3,489 688 203 436 2,371 36,616 124,166 6,538 130,704 2,798 15,705 1,242,806 97,915 84,496 45,705 10,924 2,616 1,757 6,050 1,492,269 298,592 10,959 4,268 12,955 246 331 919 9,459 1,644 60,874 59,352 12,626 23,971 14,321 15,968 5,178 10,813 11,550 10,661 11,229 6,372 3,643 425 21,116 3,553 564 8,481 2,939 2,213 325 225 241 626,013 44,207 15,845 7,163 1,477 407 852 4,837 74,788 252,615 13,377 265,992 5,641 32,055 % 49.8 3.9 3.4 1.8 0.4 0.1 0.1 0.2 59.8 12.0 0.4 0.2 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.1 2.4 2.4 0.5 1.0 0.6 0.6 0.2 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 25.1 1.8 0.6 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.2 3.0 10.1 0.5 10.7 0.2 1.3

2,821,431 5,621,982 100.0 1,264,880 1,231,878 2,496,758 100.0 2,800,551 ational total Source: The total population figures are taken from 2005 National Census, main report, Table 2.6, page 15. Figures for age cohort 0-16 are author tabulations based on the 2005 census data.

By comparing the percent distribution of the various ethnic groups in the total population and the population aged 0-16, it can be seen that Table 2 verifies the link between ethnicity and the fertility rates shown in Table 1.

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The major part of the road network is located in urban areas and passes through the lowlands, where the Lao Loum tend to live. The Lao Theung tend to live in small towns and rural areas that can be described as onroad. The Lao Soung tend to live in upland and more remote areas likely to be categorised as off-road. What can be seen in Table 2 is that Lao Loum (Lao-Tai sub-group) constitute nearly 65% of the total population, but also less than 60% of the population aged 0-16. By contrast, the Lao Theung make up less than 23% of the total population but more than 25% of 0-16 year olds. The Lao Soung constitute just over 11% of the total population but nearly 14% of the 0-16 population. The fertility rates given above make it quite clear that these demographic trends will continue at least some decades into the future. Ironically, these trends will continue until education levels (and general social and economic levels) in rural and remote areas rise. Human resource development (mainly through health, education, and training) will be essential engines of development in rural and remote areas of Laos.

Educational ConsequencesChanging Composition of the Classrooms Some of the educational consequences are suggested in Table 3. Over the period 1999/2000 to 2005/06, even in the face of rising net enrolment rates, the number of Lao Loum children enrolled in primary schools decreased by nearly 50,000 (8%) due to falling fertility rates. During the same period, as a consequence of rising enrolment rates combined with population growth, the number of Lao Theung primary school students increased by nearly 70,000 (an increase of 47%), and the number of Lao Soung primary pupils rose by over 40,000 (an increase of 60%). The trend for primary school teachers was similar, if less clear and dramatic. The number of Lao Loum primary school teachers declined by over 360, while the number of Lao Theung and the Lao Soung teachers rose by nearly 640. These two trends are illustrated in Figure 1, which superimposes a graph of the index of the trends on the graph of the basic trends themselves. That is, the background graphs show the actual numbers of children enrolled and teachers employed, by the traditional three ethnic categories previously used by the MOE. The foreground graphs show the index of the trend, where the value for 1999/2000 is set at 1.0, and the points on the graph represent the ratio value for the given year divided by the value for 1999/2000. Thus by 2005/06, Lao Soung enrolments had increased by a factor of approximately 1.6 (increased by 60%), while Lao Loum enrolments had changed by a factor of 0.98 (decreased by 2%).

Table 3: Ethnic distribution of primary students by the three traditional categories umber Lao Loum Lao Theung Lao Soung Total Percent Lao Loum...