His Excellency Dr Phankham Viphavanh, Minister for Education and Sports.

The Principal, Somvan Sithongbai.

Teachers, students and members of the Ban Hom Neua Primary School Community, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Sabaidee. Thank you to the girls for their beautiful welcome dance.

I am delighted to be here today, with Minister Phankham, to announce Australia’s new $86 million investment in basic education in the Lao PDR.

There is no more important area, I believe, where we should be working to support this country’s economic development.

Our goal, working with the government of the Lao PDR, is to achieve primary education of good quality for all Lao children. This is a vital step in building a skilled workforce, and achieving long-term economic prosperity.

Australia and the Lao PDR are very different countries, but we share some common challenges, including in education. Challenges like delivering quality education to remote communities and delivering the skills to meet the changing needs of industry. These common challenges make us good partners in education. In Australia, Laos has a long-term partner committed to helping ensure Lao children remain in school to grade 5 and beyond.

Building on Australia’s long history of cooperation in Lao education, this new program will assist around 450,000 disadvantaged children, including girls and those living with a disability, to to get to school and to stay in school.

Under this new program, the Australian Government will improve the quality of teaching and learning in eight teacher training centres across Laos. We will train more than 500 teachers from ethic minority groups, 70 per cent of them women, to teach in their communities. We will develop high quality teaching and learning materials to promote reading, writing and numeracy. We will build and renovate 300 schools, and provide school meals every school day for 76,000 students in 614 schools for three years.

This is a big agenda, but we believe it is an important one for Laos’ future.

I recognise the strong leadership and determination of the Lao Government, in particular Dr Phankham and his colleagues at the Ministry of Education and Sports, in working to strengthen Laos’ education.

We look forward to continuing our cooperation, for together we can pursue the goal of education for all, with a strong focus on gender equality and assisting the most disadvantaged.

I extend my thanks to the staff and students of Hom Neua Primary School for hosting my very special visit today. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me, to meet students and members of the school community and visit your school.

I know that the children at your sister school – Ainslie Primary School in Canberra, Australia – will enjoy receiving your pictures. And, the students at Ainslie Primary School wanted me to pass on to you how special your friendship is to them.

Dr Phankham I am a former Education Minister, before I became a Foreign Minister, so I take particular joy in seeing the impact on children’s lives of a school community that is dedicated to their education and their future.

I wish everyone every success in the journey ahead.

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