TAMY VILLAGE, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, 2 March 2010 — Breakfast in the household of a rice farmer named Mr. Sutcha is a hearty affair that includes grilled fish cooked over a fire, a mound of sticky rice, and fresh spring onions dipped in a hot chilli sauce. Its the kind of sustenance that Mr. Sutchas eldest daughter, Chapa, 9, needs for the school day ahead of her.
Conversation around the low dinner table inside the familys wooden stilt home is carried on in Akha, one of dozens of tongues that make up the complex linguistic and ethnic quilt that is modern-day Laos. It is the dominant language in this remote mountain area close to the border with China.
But when Chapa and her friends enter the little school building on the outskirts of Tamy village, they must switch to Lao, the countrys official language, which is used for the entire primary school curriculum. To most Akha children, Lao is as foreign as English or French, and the challenge of learning it can deter parents from sending their children to school at all.
This language barrier is a challenge that the Lao PDR Government has had to address, especially in places like Tamy. The villages school is one of over 1,100 schools applying a UNICEF-backed strategy to improve the quality of primary education in Lao PDR. A key principle of this Schools of Quality approach is that no children, including those from ethnic backgrounds, should miss out on the opportunity for an education.