Washing Our Hands of the Problem of Out-of-School Children?

A Little Boy in Laos Peeks Inside His Old Classroom A small boy poked his head in the classroom window and peered at the young students inside. He appeared about the same age as the first-grade children in the class in Nongnak primary school located about two hours from the capital city of Vientiane in Laos. But his face was dirty and he did not wear a uniform. The moment our eyes met, he disappeared.

I left the classroom and trotted after him. Through a translator, I learned that he was not going to school.

He had started grade 1 the previous year, but at some point he dropped out. He was a bit embarrassed and very shy, feeling out of place. His face was not beaming with pride that is often visible on the face of a learning child, and his eyes were not focused or engaged. His appearance screamed vulnerability and sadness, although he had nice clothes on, which made me think that he didn’t come from a very poor family.

Why was he not in school? What would it take for someone at the school to pay attention to him? Did he have a learning difficulty or a family problem that caused him to drop out? Would he be able to return to school, re-join his peers and continue learning? I was not able to get these answers from him.

Unfortunately, many children remain out of school for many reasons. They might have dropped out because the schools were not able to meet their learning needs, or due to poverty or a family condition. In my travels, I have met many children who dropped out. Some of these children will return to school, but some won’t until the school is able to address their special needs. The longer the child stays out of school, the less likely he or she will return.

Learning inside the classroom Inside the classroom where the little boy longed to be, the school director and the students of Nongnak primary school, just a two-hour drive from Laos’ capital Vientiane, proudly shared their achievements: programs for students coming from many ethnic minority groups, school health and education programs and a number of academic achievements.

In a 1 grade classroom, I observed an engaging math class where children were learning and practicing addition and subtraction. The teacher called upon very eager students to come to the board and write the answers with a piece of chalk (very exciting for first graders!). A small girl sitting in the front of the classroom was beaming with excitement when she was selected to come up to the board and write down the answer to a math problem. When she made a mistake the teacher gently corrected her, explained again and then asked the students to write down the problem in their notebooks.

Schools help build communities During my missions for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) I can’t help but look around the school yards, mentally checking things off my informal “school visit check list,” looking for signs of a well-functioning school.

Are the children engaged and alert? Do they have learning materials and textbooks? Is the teacher motivated and attentive? Are the classrooms inviting and include learning materials? Is there a library? Is the school playground well kept? Are there students with disabilities in school? Is the school director engaged? Is there a sense of community?

Schools are a central place in a child’s life – and now with different services offered as part of the learning curriculum–schools are becoming essential in creating both a community of learning and a community at large.

Hand-washing in education

What Next?

Related Articles