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Lower Secondary Equivalency Programmes in Lao PDR and Myanmar


What are Equivalency Programs (EP) and how do they benefit learners?

Ensuring that education systems “reach the unreached” is an overarching goal of UNESCO’s work in Asia-Pacific and equivalency programs are a flexible, alternative learning approach designed to do just this. A part of the Non-formal Education (NFE) sector, EP offer a pathway for learners who may otherwise fall outside of the reach of formal systems to find their way back into mainstream education. Upon completing EP, leaners earn certificates that are equivalent to lower secondary education, though with a stronger focus on life skills development – practical knowledge, in other words, that can offer them immediate benefits. EP graduates will be able to advance to formal higher secondary education or re-enter the labour market with enhanced vocational and life skills.

  • EP Mechanism in Lao PDR

Why are EP a major focus in Lao PDR and Myanmar?

Lao PDR and Myanmar have made tremendous advances in recent years towards the Education for All goals; however, educational gaps remain large in both countries – challenges that could be effectively addressed by EP.

Lao PDR has had particular difficulty in meeting EFA Goal 3: Learning needs of all youth and adults. The youth literacy rate remains at 84%, with 112,000 adolescents out of school. Adult literacy (EFA Goal 4) is also low at 73%.1 These illiterate people live in poverty on the fringes of the country’s main economic activities.


While significant improvements have been made to reduce the gender gap, the enrolment situation is still in favour of boys, with primary and secondary level GPI at 0.93 and 0.83, respectively.2

The necessity to provide equitable access to quality education is stressed in the country’s education policies, including the Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) 2006-2010, Education for All National Plan of Action (EFA NPA) for 2003-2015, and the National Education System Reform Strategy (NESRS) 2006-2015. The NSEDP in particular states that the quality secondary education must be made more accessible to increase the number of students entering and completing secondary education.

There have been increasing calls to bridge formal and non-formal education sectors in terms of content to benefit learners who have missed out or were denied their right to an education.

In Myanmar, gender disparities in literacy are also particularly striking, with females comprising more than half of the country’s illiterate youth and adult population. According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012, there are over 200,000 illiterate female youth in the country and 1.8 million illiterate female adults. Access to education is likewise a pressing challenge, with approximately 1.2 million Myanmar adolescents currently not in school. Although an increasing number of students graduate from primary schools, the transition rate from primary to secondary education remains 73% and the net schooling and drop-out percentages for lower-secondary are 45.5% and 11.9%, respectively.

UNESCO Contributions to EP Programmes in Lao PDR and Myanmar

Lao PDR: Since 2008, UNESCO Bangkok has supported the Department of Non-Formal Education’s (DNFE) efforts to develop an EP for lower secondary education. In 2010-2011, a pilot of the lower secondary EP, “NFE curriculum for lower-secondary education”, was launched. The program targeted was designed for those between the ages of 15-35 and in accordance with the country’s national socio-economic policy directives. The curriculum covered four broad areas: fundamental subjects (such as literacy and numeracy skills); basic vocational skills; social and community development; and quality of life enhancement. Learning materials for all subjects were also developed for the curriculum, which has been implemented in 17 provinces since 2011. As a result of this initiative, the number of EP learners for the 2014-2015 school year was approximately 59,623 (30,616 of whom were female) across the country.

Myanmar: A gender sensitive EP curriculum for 27 subjects with corresponding teacher guides were drafted and are currently undergoing review. After a series of technical consultation workshops form August to November 2013, the curriculum appears similar to that in place in Lao PDR, with four core areas of focus: foundations; basic vocational skills; social and community development; and quality of life enhancement.

The Way Forward

UNESCO Bangkok, with the generous support of the government of Japan, will continue to provide technical assistance to Lao PDR and Myanmar to scale up EPs.

  • A Five-Year EP strategic plan for Lao (2015) With the five year Educational Sector Development Plan (2016-2020) nearing completion, it is an appropriate time to develop a costed, evidence-based five-year strategic plan on EP. This will serve as the main planning and management instrument of DNFE to progressively scale up the programme over the next five years in line with the priorities, goals and targets identified in the ESDP. This plan, scheduled to be completed before July 2015, is expected to lay the groundwork for increased donor support.
  • Comprehensive EP Capacity Development Program for Myanmar: With a specific focus on NFE teachers, this activity will develop the capacity of NFE-sector personnel in the national piloting of EPs.

1EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2012.