Coming face to face with the realities of the availability of education for girls in Laos has been a shock, that I wasn’t expecting. You can have intelligence and aptitude but because you are female you leave school not being able to read or write. How unfair and economically limiting is that!
To me the amount you learn has been about aptitude and motivation and much less about opportunity and availability. I spent my whole education life working my way through the British state school system and because I was intelligent and hard working I excelled at every level.
My experiences of South-East Asia are reaffirming how grateful I am to to be given the opportunity to attend school until I was ready to leave rather than being forced to leave school to support my family, parents or because education got too expensive to sustain.
In Laos I had the privilege and pleasure to spend 3 weeks over a six week period teaching english to different groups of Laotian people. The contrast between an all male and an all female team, I worked with, was particularly interesting:
The male team could all read and write Laos, but over 3 weeks struggled to remember and recall less than 20 words in English.
Only one of the ladies in the all female team could read and write, however this team had remembered 20 words after the first week and were using them correctly in a sentence to tourists by week three. Two members of the team showed particular aptitude, however the whole team were clearly working together to share the words they had learnt and practice them together.
In my naivety I assumed that girls with aptitude would automatically stay on at school long enough to at least learn the basics of reading and writing.
The sad thing was that the all female team were the Kitchen Team and, as such, worked very long hours starting work before breakfast and finished after the evening meal; this meant that there was little time or energy left to squeeze in any formal english lessons.
My recommendation was that two of the ladies from the Kitchen Team should be given the opportunity to learn english at night school over the summer, when the number of clients reduced and their workload dropped off to a manageable level.