December 18, 2010Wearing casual clothes to primary school near his village in an isolated area of Luang Namtha province, six-year old Vanh has little idea how he can pursue higher education in the future.
Vanh is fortunate to be the youngest in his family in a generation that has access to better facilities and income, as well as policy related to long distance learning, including scholarships granted by the government.
Unless he picks up such financial assistance, the youngster will have trouble getting a good education as his parents have already sold nine buffalos to send his elder brother, Xaykham, to law school in Luang Prabang, while his elder sister, Phonesavanh, just graduated from a forestry school in Borikhamxay province.
“I want my kids to get a higher education, which is why I have spent big money on their learning. I am positive that I won’t be disappointed in my investment because I don’t want them to end up like their parents, having to rely on nature and farming,” their father Mr Seuangkham Savarngxay, 52, said.
Mr Seuangkham spoke to Vientiane Times as he and his children sat around the fire they light in the morning to keep warm. He explained that if his kids, like others in the village, do not receive scholarships he will be unable to support them.
He has faith, however, that his daughter, who has already graduated, and his son, who will graduate in the next two years, will be able to look after the family, especially by supporting their beloved younger brother in his studies.
“I am between jobs,” said Phonesavanh. “Currently I am just helping my family while waiting for a job. Studying is hard, but looking for a job is even harder and I realise I cannot be too choosy because competition is high.”
Xaykham and Phonesavanh finished high school together in central Luang Namtha province. It took more than one hour to travel by road from their home in Chalernsouk village to school.
Like so many other children in the country, the pair did not receive scholarships from the government, but luckily their parents had some property, like rice paddies, and cows to sell in order support their higher education.
The Ministry of Education has admitted that the number of scholarships is not yet enough to cover all students, especially those from rural communities.
At present, 50 percent of students across the country receive support funds from the government but in the future the Ministry of Education will cut this down to 20 percent, Director General of the Higher Education Department Dr Phonephet Boupha said.
“Our future plan, set for 2015, has been approved by the government. This policy aims to support outstanding students, as well as disadvantaged students throughout the country,” she said.
The ministry is now working with the National University of Laos to provide long distance learning so that more people can access higher education.
“Only through better education can we achieve poverty reduction and develop stronger communities. I can’t just rely on nature as a food source like my parents and grandparents did because population growth means such resources are being spread thinner and thinner. Therefore education is the key,” Xaykham said.
He said he sometimes finds it difficult to follow his law lessons, but he is good at managing his finances because he lives in a dormitory.
He said he sometimes works at construction sites to earn extra money to lessen his family’s financial burden. In Xaykham’s opinion, this work is not hard – at least compared to working in the rice fields in his village.
The children of Seuangkham’s family are quite fortunate because many other families in their village, often with more children, cannot support their children’s educational pursuits so youths end up working on the farm.
This problem extends to provinces throughout the country. Many parents are left hoping for new policy that will allow their children to access long distance education, as well as support funds.