Global Education

Teacher resources to encourage a global
perspective across the curriculum

Laos

Map for Laos
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  • Improving teacher skills assists students to learn better at Na Thong school in Laos.
  • The ‘iron buffalo’ or walking tractor is used to prepare a paddy field for rice seedlings near Sekong, Laos.
  • In Laos, Tao Kim experiences his right to education through having a teacher from his own cultural background.
  • A woman spends all day bent over and standing in water to plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Laos.
  • Newly planted paddy rice seedlings in a field near Sekong, Laos.
  • Boys are playing petanque at a mountainous village school in Laos.
  • Thongkat lost his leg in an unexploded ordnance accident in Pakse, Lao. He now has a prosthetic leg.
  • Unhusked rice and another crop are drying in the sun in a village near Sekong, Laos.
  • People bathe and do their laundry on the banks of the Sekong River in southern Laos before it joins the Mekong River.
  • In rural villages in Laos, houses are built with walls of woven bamboo and have a grass thatched roof.
  • Apartments built above shops in Vientiane, Laos
  • Apartments in Phnom Penh, Laos are built above a garage. They have electricity, running water and sewerage.
  • A woman carries heavy buckets of water from a standpipe to her home near Sekong, Laos.
  • A girl waters her family vegetable plot, helping to produce a healthy crop and vital nutrition in Sekong, Laos.

Case studies

Rice

Newly planted paddy rice seedlings in a field near Sekong, Laos.
Traditional rice production is backbreaking work and often has low yields.
Read more
Flag of Laos

Population:

6,645,827

GNI per capita (PPP US$):

4,170

Population living on less than US$1.25 per day:

33.9%

Adult literacy rates:

73%

Access to water:

70%
Did you know?

The Mekong River is known as Mae Nam Khong or Mother of Waters.

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Geography

Physical geography

Laos is one of the few landlocked countries in Asia. Its total land area is approximately 237,000 square kilometres, slightly larger than Victoria (227,416 square kilometres). Rivers and mountains dominate the landscape and the largest river, the Mekong, runs the entire length of the country, forming a border with Thailand.

The rugged mountains of the Annamite Chain, bordering Vietnam, run parallel to the Mekong for half the length of the country. They average between 1,500 and 3,000 metres in height. In the south the land opens up to form the Bolaven Plateau, a 10,000 square kilometre area. The highest mountain is Phu Bia (2,819 metres) in northern Laos. A number of rivers, most of them starting in the Laos–Vietnamese highlands, cross the country and flow into the Mekong.

Climate

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons: rainy (May to October), cool (November to February) and hot (March and April). There are seasonal and regional variations of temperature. During the hot season temperatures can be as high as 40 °C, while during the cool season they can be as low as 5 °C or less in the uplands. The average annual rainfall increases from 1,500 to 1,700 millimetres in the west to 3,000 millimetres in the mountains in the east. In the capital, Vientiane, the average temperature in January is 21.1 °C and in July is 27.2 °C. The city’s average annual rainfall is 1,715 millimetres.

Environment

Tropical forests, which once covered half of the country, are rapidly being logged. The major species are teak, Asian rosewood, bamboo, pine and mahogany. Laos has a variety of animals including the rare Quang Vu buffalo and the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and Irrawaddy dolphin. Elephants, leopards and tigers are also found along with sambar, gaur, black bear and gibbon.

Population

Nearly 65% of Laos’s 6.6 million people live in rural areas along the fertile river valleys. The capital, Vientiane, has a population of 810,000. The other main towns are Savannakhet, Pakse and Luang Prabang, all situated on the Mekong River.

People

Culture and identity

Laos’s population is ethnically diverse, consisting of approximately 131 groups. More than half the country’s people are Lao who are descended from the Tai people who began migrating southwards from China in the first millennium CE. They live mainly along the river valleys and are the politically and culturally dominant group. Khmer, Vietnamese and Thai cultural influences can be seen in Laotian language, arts and cuisine.

The Laotian people greet each other with a prayer-like gesture called a nop. The higher the hands are in front of the chest, the greater the sign of respect to people of higher status and age. The gesture is also used as an expression of thanks, regret or saying goodbye.

Laotians have a variety of folk arts, including cotton and silk weaving, bamboo basket making, wood and ivory carving, and silver and gold engraving and sculpturing.

The town of Luang Prabang is Laos’s first World Heritage listed site. It is famous for its blend of traditional Lao and 19th and 20th century colonial European architecture that represents the merging of the two cultures.

Health

Health indicators are poor but improving. About 70% of the population have access to safe water and 61% have access to sanitation facilities, although people living in rural areas have less access. Communicable diseases like malaria, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections are the main causes of children’s death. Life expectancy at birth is 63 years and the infant mortality rate is 55 deaths per 1,000 live births. About a third of children under five years are underweight. HIV/AIDS prevalence is currently very low, but a range of risk factors is present.

Religion and beliefs

Most of the lowland Laotian practise Theravada Buddhism, which emphasises the potential of the individual to attain nirvana or enlightenment through prayer, meditation and leading a good life.

Animistic beliefs prevail among groups living in the mountainous areas of Laos. They believe in the protective powers of guardian spirits and the divine and curing powers of the shamans and spirit healers.

Food and shelter

Rice is the staple food for Laotians. Fresh vegetables, freshwater fish, poultry, duck, pork, beef or water buffalo are included in a variety of dishes, which may be flavoured with lime juice, lemon grass, coriander, hot chillies, garlic, mint, ground peanuts, tamarind juice, ginger and coconut milk.

Rural homes are generally the traditional Lao home, built on stilts with wooden planks for flooring, bamboo walls and grass or shingles for the roof. The house consists of a large open space where people sit on low seats or cushions to eat and relax. The kitchen and a small room for washing and bathing are attached. City homes may be villas or apartment buildings.

Economy

Wealth and poverty

Laos’s transition to a market economy and increased economic engagement with the region has reduced the nation’s poverty in recent years. However, more than a third of people live on US$1.25 a day and the distribution of wealth is highly unequal, with the top 10% of the population holding 30% of the income, while the bottom 10% has about 3%. Most of the poor live in the remote and mountainous north and in the south-east, along the border with Vietnam.

Education and work

Laos has made steady progress in achieving unversal primary education with about 95% of children enrolled but not all complete. Further funding is needed to build schools and train teachers particularly for remote areas. The adult literacy rate is 73% (82% male, 63% female). Secondary schooling is concentrated in provincial towns and there are only five tertiary institutions.

Agriculture is the main economic activity and counts for 85% of the total workforce. The industrial sector and service sectors are growing slowly.

Industries and products

The main industrial activities include construction, hydroelectric power, mining, clothing manufacturing, agricultural processing and forestry goods. Tourism is also growing.

Trade

Laos exports wood products, coffee, electricity, tin, copper and gold to Thailand (34%), China (21%) and Vietnam (12%). It imported machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel and consumer goods from Thailand (62%), China (16%) and Vietnam (7%).

Government

Laos became the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) on 2 December 1975. It is a Leninist-Marxist state led by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The 1991 constitution established a market-oriented economy, gave citizens the right to own property and encouraged foreign and domestic investment. Elections for the National Assembly were last held in April 2011 and President Choummaly Sayasone was elected for a second term in June 2011.

Although human rights are improving, freedom of speech remains limited in Laos.

Achievements and challenges

While Laos continues to rely heavily on donor assistance, its economic situation is improving. Laos has extensive natural resources, such as mineral deposits, forests, and the river systems to produce hydroelectricity, but these resources are suffering from poor management and exploitation.

Flooding and droughts are the natural hazards which regularly occur in Laos. Unexploded ordnance contamination from the Indochina conflict still cause injury and limit the use of farmland.

Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals is mixed. While good progress has been made towards universal primary education (MDG 2) and combating HIV/AIDS and malaria (MDG 6), reaching isolated and remote communities presents significant challenges to achieving these goals.

Links with Australia

Australia and Laos share over fifty years of diplomatic relations. The earliest Laotian migrants arrived in Australia as Colombo Plan students in the 1960s and 1970s. Many Laotians came to Australia as refugees after 1976 following the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic at the end of the war in Indochina. The 2011 census recorded 9,931 Laos-born people in Australia. New South Wales had the largest number with 5,101 followed by Victoria with 2,160, Queensland with 1,316, and the Australian Capital Territory with 640.

Australian aid to Laos focuses on improving basic education; supporting growth through trade and investment facilitation; and promoting rural development, with an emphasis on livelihoods support, rural infrastructure and unexploded ordnance risk reduction. Since 2003 Australia has provided duty-free and quota-free access for Laotian goods exported to Australia as part of its efforts to assist growth in the Laotian economy. Australia also supported Laos’s accession to the World Trade Organization, demonstrated through training Laotian officials for WTO accession.