CLI currently operates five full-fledged Learning Centers (LC) in the District Towns of five rural Luang Prabang districts. We also have a small LC project in a sixth district, but as yet no LC building and so that location awaits construction funding so we can ramp up the activity.
Learning Centers are a way to address limitations in the formal school system in Laos. There are only a handful of LCs in Laos, most of them provided by CLI. There is a great need for many more.
The LC idea is well established in Vietnam (where there are more than 8,000 LCs) and in Thailand.
The basic idea is simple: provide opportunities for children and youth to develop their knowledge, skills and interests more fully than is possible in the underdeveloped school classrooms alone.
In the developed world, kids are very involved (some people say excessively involved) in non-school activities that help them discover and reach for their potential. In Laos there is usually (if there is a school) only classroom time, with severely limited materials, and much of the interaction role learning.
CLI tries to be about opportunity creation. We try to give youngsters chances to find ways forward toward futures that may be more challenging (and possibly more rewarding) as Laos inevitably changes. In an unchanging Laos where all but a small minority were subsistence rice farmers, learning traditional agricultural skills and understanding the tasks and traditions of village culture was adequate preparation for adult life.
In the evolving Laos of today, knowing more better prepares young people. Laos is still a country of villages and mostly agricultural and many still live in near subsistence mode. But the connections beyond the village are growing. Connections beyond the District town are growing. Connections to beyond Laos are growing. So it is important to create ways for rural young people to be better able to understand, adapt and flourish as their local and national worlds evolve.
The CLI Learning Centers have two rooms. The smaller is a library, usually with more than 1,000 Lao language books. For context, understand that there are virtually no libraries in Laos, including in schools – even high schools. As with nearly all resources, books become more scarce as one moves away from the four largest towns (“cities” seems too grand a term, even for Vientiane, the capital). From town to rural to remote, there is less of everything, especially educational opportunity.
Books are a fundamental tool for expanding the minds of young people. Anyone can read the books in the LC libraries. For less than half a US$ kids can become permanent members, allowed to borrow books. The library rooms are open before and after school, and on weekends.
The larger LC room is the activity room. Here CLI provides a variety of active learning experiences – as well as some “just for fun” games and sports kids need. Some are academic, such as English language classes. Some are “life skills,” such as cooking, sewing, weaving and traditional crafts. Some are focused on art and performance, such as painting, drawing, traditional dance and songs, and playing musical instruments.
Specific choices are made locally, determined by local interest. Activities are organized after school and weekends. The target age is 6-16, but younger and older siblings often participate. Each Learning Center is staffed by two to four local women, assisted by older teen volunteers. And staff from each LC go to area primary schools several days a month with books to organize “reading days.”
These may seem familiar, simple ideas to visitors from Europe or the Americas. But only a few Lao kids have access to Learning Centers now, and there is no comparable opportunity for self development. The CLI Learning Center model has been proven successful and should be widely extended in Laos.
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