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By Nisha Labade
26 April 2023

For every child, being school ready is essential – for now and for later on in life. 

When Callan and our teams touched down in Laos, their first stop was visiting a community in Savannakhet Province. This community, which largely is made up of families from the Makong ethnic group, is home to two fun-loving and friendly five-year-old friends, Ki and Keosy.

Left: Children in Savannakhet Province walk home after their classes have finished for the day. 
Right: Keosy and Ki, 5, play with material from the ECD toolkit, provided through UNICEF Australia.
Left: Children in Savannakhet Province walk home after their classes have finished for the day. Right: Keosy (left) and Ki (right), 5, play with material from the early childhood development toolkit, provided through UNICEF Australia.
© UNICEF Laos/2022

Ki and Keosy attend a community-based school readiness centre that is supported by UNICEF Australia and the Australian Government (via the Australian NGO Cooperation Program) to provide a safe and holistic space for children that supports their foundational learning and transition to school. The centre hosts 26 children and two community facilitators who conduct classroom activities with their students. This centre is one of many supported by UNICEF, benefiting hundreds of children in Laos.  


of children aged 3-5 across Laos are not enrolled in early childhood education


of children in Laos repeat first grade, indicating a lack of school readiness in the country

When Ki and Keosy’s class met Callan, they invited him to play with them and take part in the activities at their community-based school readiness centre. They kept him busy with singing, dancing and educational activities from the UNICEF early childhood development ‘toolkit’

The toolkit includes items such as a soccer ball, clay, books and other learning essentials. This toolkit provides teachers with the resources they need to interact with students through positive play that promotes cognitive stimulation. This helps children to make sense of the world around them and use their imagination, to build social and emotional competencies so they can become productive adults in the future. 

“These toolkits are the kind of stuff that is vital for developing young minds for the future. There are all sorts of games to play, and things to read. And one of these talented young kids here, Ki, made a green figurine out of clay - one of my favourite things to do as a child. So, I see some extraordinary young minds at work and [believe] this is going to help them grow,” says Callan. 

"When children have access to early stimulation from their parents and from the early education programs, they have the best chance of thriving in school and therefore, for life"

Callan McAuliffe
Actor and UNICEF Australia Ambassador

Callan McAuliffe speaks on the importance of education

 UNICEF Australia International Programs Manager, Charlotte Graham and Callan reflected on this incredibly ‘educational’ start to their Laos trip visiting a wide range of UNICEF Australia supported programs in the region.  

 “It’s been really incredible to see this firsthand in Savannakhet. The teachers are using songs and storytelling in ways that I can see is socio-emotionally beneficial for these kids. And UNICEF has also seen a clear contrast between those who've been through the program and those who haven't, in terms of readiness, for a happy and vibrant future," says Callan. 

 Charlotte agrees, “Our teams had a great conversation with some of the Ministry of Education staff, as well as the school and village leadership. What they told us is that they can really see interest in the community to implement this work further. They have seen significant improvement in learning outcomes in children who have taken part in the program, when they enter primary school. We are excited to continue to build on this success over the next three years, with the help of our generous supporters.” 

 This program only possible thanks to the support of people like you and the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). 

Change the lives of children in Lao PDR

Alongside our partners, UNICEF Australia is providing early learning opportunities to children, and parenting sessions that support parents and caregivers.

Callan McAuliffe poses with kids in Laos© UNICEF Laos/2022

Callan McAuliffe

Callan McAuliffe is an Australian actor, known for his roles as young Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby movie (2013) and Alden in The Walking Dead (2017 – 2022). Callan has been a huge supporter of UNICEF emergency appeals and is passionate about raising awareness about access to quality education around the world.