Laos has been faced with a chronic shortage of teachers and healthcare workers in recent years.
But the government’s plan to hire only 800 state employees this year – only some of whom will be teachers and medical staff – due to budgetary constraints amid a host of economic woes means that gap won’t be filled anytime soon, educators and officials say.
In Laos’ centrally-planned economy, workers in schools and hospitals are generally government employees, and those who want jobs in their chosen fields are dependent on government quotas, as well as passing an examination. Many young people therefore work as volunteers in classrooms and clinics until there is an opening for salaried staff.
The hiring quota for civil servants has steadily declined in recent years, from 2,000 in 2020 and 1,600 in 2021 to 1,300 last year. Out of that number, the quota for teachers was set at 340 and about 320 as health workers.
But this year’s lower number means the chances of volunteer workers getting permanent jobs are slim, sources say.
The government of new Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone faces a host of economic ills. It is short on funds because of rampant inflation, high foreign debt and the devaluation of the currency, the kip.
“There are many districts in the country that will get fewer than the three persons per district,” a volunteer teacher said. “Most of my peer volunteers have quit teaching, and only one or two left, but they don’t know what to do,” said the educator, who declined to be identified as did others in the report, so as not to provoke authorities.
To make an income, volunteer teachers and healthcare workers usually hold other jobs or rely on family support and accept food and shelter from villagers in provinces where they work to eke out a living.
Connections seem to help
Another volunteer teacher said she was disappointed to hear about the new quota for 2022 because there is little chance of educators like her getting hired for permanent teaching jobs, and that only those with connections to local government officials will likely be offered positions.
“Even though the number of recruits was over 1,000 people [last year], some provinces did not receive the same quotas,” she said. “The government will do the same thing because it’s become part of the culture already that only those who have connections get hired.”
Primary school education in Laos is compulsory and free at public schools, but instruction in both state-run primary and secondary schools is rudimentary, and few students meet standards in reading, writing and math skills for promotion to higher grade.
A third volunteer educator who stopped teaching after waiting many years for a formal salaried position told RFA on Tuesday that this year’s low recruitment figure will make it more difficult for volunteer teachers to pass the exam they must take to get hired permanently.
This is a way for authorities from the Ministry of Education and Sports to push volunteer educators to stop teaching in hopes of getting a salaried job, she said.
In the southern province of Savannakhet province alone, about 1,000 teachers quit their volunteer jobs, creating a shortage of educators in the country’s most populous province with roughly 1 million people, a provincial education official told RFA.
With a devaluating kip and slim prospects of being hired for a full-time state teaching job, more and more volunteer educators are walking away from their jobs.
Some schools had to cancel classes and place students in other schools with one teacher providing instruction on many subjects.
“There are not enough teachers, though there are more students as villages have expanded,” the official said. “Volunteer teachers have quit. We have too many students in one class, and the study is not up to standard due to a teacher shortage.”
Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.