Lao schoolgirls reading books

Compared to other parts of the world the education systems of Southeast Asia are quite efficient and effective. For the most part girls and boys nowadays share equal access to education facilities. Thus enrollment and literacy rates are comparable across genders. However out of the ten ASEAN countries there are two that lag behind considerably: Cambodia and Laos.

Cambodia and Laos are neighboring countries in the Mekong River Delta region. Both experience persistent economic deprivation, a primarily rural populace and standstill traditions– all of which come together as roadblocks to education. Especially education for girls because boys are favored. If a poor family can afford to send only one of their children to school– chances are it is going to be the son.

The graph below features the “Persistence to last grade of primary, female (% of cohort)” courtesy of the World Bank.

World Bank - Female persistence to last year of primary school

As you can see in the data featured above both Cambodia and Laos are below the world average in terms of girls finishing their last year in primary school. Compared to the rest of the East Asia and Pacific region, the two nations have even lower rates of female primary-level completion. This is because in many countries nearby (think South Korea and Taiwan, for instance) a very strong emphasis is put on education– more so than the US. South Korea in particular has arguably the top education system in the world.

However, looking to Southeast Asia where both Cambodia and Laos sit, the emphasis on education is far removed– especially in the rural areas. And rural areas makeup about 80% of both countries. Cambodia and Laos’ economies rely heavily on subsistence farming. In many of these rural farming villages, electricity and clean water are scarce. In an environment where basic necessities are hard to come by, it is not surprising that little attention is put towards education.

A dilemma that may create future repercussions in both Cambodia and Laos is that they experience young populations and relatively less women receiving an education beyond secondary (if lucky to make it there, even.) With less women making it to the college level, there are less future women leaders in the country. For instance, in Cambodia 60 % of population is under 25. And women make up more than half of the population. Nonetheless, only 11 percent of females get enrolled into the upper secondary school level. 

In terms of culture and tradition, many Asian cultures have always favored sons for they are the ones who end up supporting the family in later years. Traditionally, women get married off to another family and no longer contribute to their biological. While times have changed and this may not always be the case– the mindset has not. Thus families will still choose to education their sons over their daughters. Daughter will instead help the family produce income. Many times going towards her brother’s education.

In the end, this is going to be a topic I explore further in the future. Hopefully with a helpful infographic!


Image – School girls reading a book in Laos. By Blue Plover via Wikimedia Commons