Laos Must Reopen Schools To Ensure Its Future

An empty school building in Sopcham Village, Luang Prabang Province
An empty school building in Sopcham Village, Luang Prabang Province.

Is it time for Laos to reopen schools? What might the future hold if classrooms remain closed?

Covid-19 has impacted our lives in so many ways. It has been a time when many have struggled mentally. Financially it has been tough at every level. The impact of both the pandemic itself and the resulting lockdowns and restrictions, which are nearing their 200th day, have been felt by everyone.

But it is often our children, the most vulnerable members of society, that suffer the most.

Schools provide so much for children. As well as the education which is so very important, and a safe environment, schools provide even more. They protect and nurture our children. They provide developmental milestones that happen naturally and in the company of peers, and which can get missed when kids remain home. And at stressful times, when emotions run high, a school can be a place of safety, and it can provide the first step in helping kids to get the care and support they need when life at home is difficult.

In developing countries like Laos, the issues run even deeper. Whilst many children around the world have been able to access online learning, this has posed a real challenge for Laos, where many lack access to the technology required for remote learning. Some have, but for many, their education simply stops when schools close.

Children who aren’t in school need to be cared for. This results in people being unable to work if they stay at home to care for their children. Sometimes it means that the children themselves end up working alongside their parents. When this happens, the concern is that the longer it goes on, the less likely they are to return to school once it reopens. And a whole generation of kids misses a huge part of their education, both now and in the future.

But that isn’t all. Studies have shown that children in the developing world who lose the opportunity to attend school are also at greater risk of child marriages, as well as sexual abuse and child pregnancy.

Our children remain vulnerable after schools have been closed for a large part of this year, as well as several weeks last year at the start of the pandemic. It is difficult to balance protection from the virus with the problems caused by keeping them out of schools. This is certainly a very hard decision for the government to make, and while everyone wants to keep our kids safe – especially as they are generally unvaccinated – a decision must be made.

We saw last year what an amazing job schools did at keeping our kids safe. Safe within the school grounds, safe by encouraging hand-washing, safe by wearing masks, and safe by practicing social distancing.

Comparatively, Laos has fared well from the virus. Whilst many countries suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths, we have been spared. With some excellent decision making, combined with a young population, plenty of space, and the major wave only hitting after the vaccination program was already well underway, 190 out of the 223 countries around the world have suffered more deaths as a percentage of their population than we have.

It is a tough balance to make for any country. Around the world, different governments have tried to balance the economy, personal freedom, mental health, and education against the risks of Covid-19. And Laos had had implications to consider that other countries haven’t had to face. It is a landlocked country, with an infrastructure that can make travel to certain areas difficult, especially in the rainy season. The healthcare system doesn’t have much of the equipment and facilities that are standard in the developed world, and the crunch on the economy, caused by the substantial drop in GDP has only made things tougher.

People are understandably scared of this virus that has caused so much havoc over recent months, but as more and more of us are vaccinated, and knowledge about the virus and how to treat people with it increases, the risks get lower. We are seeing that deaths are rare amongst people who don’t have underlying conditions. Rarer still in those who have been fully vaccinated. And it is this knowledge that is enabling countries around the world to start to prioritize schooling once more.

As more and more schools around the world open up, and children can begin to meet their friends, learn their lessons, and be watched over and protected by their teachers and their school, they can start to recover from this traumatic period and once again reach their developmental goals, whilst their families can know that they are safe and happy.

I hope, for our children’s sake, that here in Laos they are able to return to school soon.

The Laotian Times has published this anonymous Op-Ed to deliver an important perspective to our readers. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Laotian Times.