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By UNICEF Australia
10 June 2020

Ketsavan, an 18-year-old student in Year 12, is excited to see her friends again after a long unexpected break.

Just like before, she puts on her school uniform. But now, there is an additional item she must wear - a mask.

On May 18, her school welcomed over 900 students from grade 9, 10 and 12 after a two-month-long hiatus. Schools all over the country were closed as part of government’s response to the spread of COVID-19.  

With no new cases reported in over a month, the Ministry of Education and Sports issued safe school guidance and decided to reopen the schools in two phases.

"We were at home for too long. This is my last year in school and I was worried that we would not be able to appear for state exams. I am so relieved to be back"

Ketsavan
Year 12 student
Ketsavan, an 18-year-old student in Year 12, is excited to see her friends again after a long unexpected break.
Ketsavan, an 18-year-old student in Year 12, is excited to see her friends again after a long unexpected break.
©UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

To ensure children continue learning, the school had started a YouTube channel. Ketsavan and other students were using the channel to study.

“Despite the dangers of coronavirus, I am confident that my school is safe because they are doing everything to keep us safe by implementing these new rules,” says Ketsavan.

On her first day, she was surprised to see that the rules in her school had changed. First, she had to maintain a one-meter distance between her friends and stand in the queue at the entrance for temperature check.

After that, they had to wash their hands and use hand sanitisers in front of their classrooms. The new rules were not just for the students, but for staff and teachers as well.

As part of the rules in place to return to school in Laos, children have their temperature checked before entering the school.
As part of the rules in place to return to school in Laos, children have their temperature checked before entering the school.
©UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

"It is so nice to have my students back in the classroom. During the lockdown, we were checking in on our students regularly. Luckily, all of them and their families were safe."

Mr. Viengchit Sinthamvongsa
senior school teacher
Children learning in a school classroom in Laos.
Children learning in a school classroom in Laos.
© UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

In Lao PDR, many schools were used as a quarantine station for people returning from neighbouring countries. As per the safe school guidance, the schools were disinfected and cleaned extensively.

“Although our school was not used as a quarantine place during the lockdowns, we are not making any compromises in our safety,” says Mr. Viengchit.

“A week before the reopening, we sprayed disinfectant in classrooms and other places. Likewise, we have allocated 30 minutes in the morning for temperature checking and those with fever will be sent home for rest,” he said. 

At school, Ketsavan catches up with her friends. They share their experiences of lockdown. One of her classmates, Leewa, belongs to a Hmong community from a remote village in northern part of the country. After the schools were closed, he returned to his village.

Although the school was not used during the coronavirus outbreak, precautionary measures are being taken like cleaning and disinfecting.
Although the school was not used during the coronavirus outbreak, precautionary measures are being taken like cleaning and disinfecting.
©UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

"At my village, I did not get enough time to study. I was helping my family in the farm all day. To be honest, I was really scared...I was planning to apply for college scholarships. I thought I would lose everything."

Leewa
Year 12 student

To his relief, classes have now resumed and exams are set to take place at the end of July. Both teachers and students are confident that they have enough time to cover the time lost and prepare for the examination.

“We were conducting online classes to make sure students were not deprived of education,” says Ms Phaivone Silivay, a grade 10 physics teacher. She was also checking in on their mental and emotional state during the lockdown.

“I am glad to see that all of them are in good spirits and I am confident we will finish our curriculum and be ready to appear for the exams soon.”

The only challenge she thinks they might encounter with the new guidelines is to promote social distancing in big school like theirs with a total capacity of 3,000 people. But she promises that all teachers will try their best.

A girl looks out the window during class at a school in Laos.
A girl looks out the window during class at a school in Laos.
©UNICEF Laos/2020/AKarki

UNICEF and development partners have been supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports, and the Ministry of Health to respond to the pandemic since day one in Lao PDR.

We have been supporting the Lao PDR by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health workers, promoting hygiene practices, training journalists on COVID-19 and disseminating information through traditional and digital media.

UNICEF also supported the Ministry of Education to develop an education COVID-19 response plan. Most recently, we supported the back to school campaign which includes messaging through INGO networks and teachers’ groups, distributing posters to all schools in Lao, and using digital and traditional media to share more information for parents, teachers and students.

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