A LANDLOCKED, mountainous country with less than five per cent of its land suitable for subsistence agriculture, Laos today has gradually 0pened up to the world since the 1990s. Economic and business reforms were implemented in 2005 to liberalise its domestic markets and a stock market in capital city Vientiane was opened in 2011.
Living standards are still low, as many people living outside the capital do not have access to electricity or basic facilities.
Laos continues to rely heavily on foreign aid and investment, especially from Vietnam, China and Japan. On the ground, there is clearly a great need for education and training, and the setting up of good schools to equip Laotians to lead the country along its path to development.
A Singapore husband-and-wife team, Mr Yeow Kok Liang and Mrs Lesley Yeow, have been in Laos since January 2005 when they started the INSPIRE Centre for Higher Development to teach English to adults, mainly from companies and organisations. The centre has also been engaged by the Embassy of Singapore to train Lao government officials.
Encouraged by their Lao students and Singaporean friends, the couple went on to start the Singapore Mission School in Laos, or SMS Laos for short, in September 2010.
Catering mainly to the Lao people, the curriculum is bilingual, though English is the main medium of instruction, and is being modelled after the curriculum in Singapore mission schools. Students in SMS Laos can go from Kindergarten through to Primary School, and eventually to Secondary and High School.
Presently, 19 children are enrolled in Kindergarten to Primary Two classes at the full-day school. The school is currently staffed with three to four Lao teachers, with support from several volunteers.
While the school has successfully obtained its foreign investment licence in September 2011, the education licence has not been granted yet. This is because the current building is unsuitable and there is a shortage of qualified Lao teachers at the school.
To address this, approval is being sought to build an additional block of classrooms where the school garden is right now, in order to meet the Education Ministry’s requirements. This will cost US$130,000 (S$166,000) and will be critical to obtaining the licence.
There is also the issue of hiring more teachers, particularly to enable the school to give more attention to existing students, some of whom have special needs, and to open a Primary Three class.
For the Methodist Missions Society (MMS), partnering the SMS Laos is aligned with our mission to see the love of the Lord Jesus Christ become a reality amongst the people of Laos. This is indeed the answer to our prayers to reach out to the Lao people in a meaningful and sustainable way.
MMS would like to invite Methodist churches, sponsors and the community in Singapore to participate in this mission to provide a complete and holistic education of international standard to build up the Lao people.
Would you join us to build a vibrant mission school in Laos? Through your support, we will be able to provide resources, missionary teachers, volunteers, sponsorships and scholarships for students. We will also help in the school governing board, as well as the development, construction and operations of the eventual students’ hostel and education hub.
* Information on developments in Laos was drawn from a report in a November 2012 country report in BBC News Online.
DONATE * your time, talents and resources to the Singapore Mission School in Laos. Write to Col (Retd) Quek Koh Eng at koheng.quek@ methodist.org.sg
Col (Retd) Quek Koh Eng is an Area Director and Director of Operations in the Methodist Missions Society.