Traditionally, Laotian children were educated at home or in Buddhist monasteries. The monks taught young boys reading, writing, arithmetic and religious subjects. The first formal and secular school in Laos was built in 1902, ten years after Laos became a French colony. It was a school for adults and it concentrated on business and administrative studies. In 1905, a second school opened that included some elementary grades for children.

 In 1917, the French introduced a common curriculum for all the countries in Indochina. By 1945, there were 145 elementary schools for 10,000 villages in Indochina. At first, the teachers were French colonists. Gradually French-speaking Vietnamese teachers replaced them. 

Education was disrupted by the Vietnam War, and the schools deteriorated. Since then, facilities have improved, but the resources to support education are scarce. Most village schools have few books or other teaching materials. Trained Laotian teachers are also scarce. Although the government made secular education compulsory in 1951, not all children are able to attend school. Only a few students manage to graduate from secondary school every year. In some rural areas, the literacy rate is less than 50%.

 Officially, primary education begins at age six and lasts for five years. This is followed by secondary education, which begins at age eleven and lasts for six years. The system is still largely influenced by French traditions. Students work towards a baccalaureat, awarded at the end of secondary school studies.

  Did you know?
In Laotian schools, classes are conducted in Lao or French. However, the government is now encouraging the study of English as a second language, instead of French.
Higher education is provided by Sisavangvong University, which offers courses in education, the arts, agriculture, forestry, technical studies, Pali and Sanskrit. There is also a National Polytechnic Institute, a Pedagogical University and a Medical Sciences University, as well as several regional technical colleges. Some students go to Vietnam, Cambodia or France to complete their education.

 The government plans to reform the education system and increase literacy. However, the pace of change and development is slow, and it will be many years before progress can be seen.