School Safety in Lao PDR

December 1, 2015

Schools Safety Lap PDR


The Government of Lao PDR has been building the resilience of the education sector through the development of specific disaster risk reduction curriculum from grades 3 to 6 of primary and secondary schools. This initiative is a partnership between the National Disaster Management Office, the National Research Institute for Education Sciences and the Ministry of Education and Sports. It includes the development of disaster risk reduction manuals for teachers, and disaster risk reduction training for teachers and education officials. More recently, Lao PDR is focusing on safe building construction. Guidelines for school building construction,1 approved by the Ministry of Education and Sports, are available.

The good practices of two school safety initiatives are discussed here. The first case study is an ASEAN Safe Schools Initiative (ASSI)2. Building on existing school safety initiatives, ASSI in Lao PDR has, since September 2014, focused on leveraging the potential of information and communication technology for comprehensive school safety. The project, led by Save the Children in Lao PDR, developed a Comprehensive School Safety Assessment Suite that comprises a self-assessment tool and the Visual Inspection for Safety Upgrading Strategy (VISUS) tool. The self-assessment tool was piloted in 50 schools in four districts, and the VISUS tool in nine schools in three districts of Bolikhamxay Province. The second case study looks at another Save the Children project in Lao PDR that rolls out Disaster Risk Reduction Handbooks for teachers to use as guides to prepare lessons on disaster risk reduction.


CSSF Pillars 1, 2, 3 – Case Study 1: Tablet-Based Comprehensive School Safety Assessment

Under the framework of the ASSI consortium partnership with funding support from European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), Save the Children in Lao PDR led the development of tablet-based tools for comprehensive school safety assessment for government officials and schools.

The Comprehensive School Safety Assessment Suite is multi-hazard assessment tools composed of the self-assessment and VISUS, based on the three pillars of the Comprehensive School Safety Framework (CSSF). Lao PDR is the first country to have a complete school safety assessment suite following the triage approach to help authorities identify at-risk schools and take proactive decisions.

Save the Children in Lao PDR developed, tested and improved a self-assessment tool for government officials and school teachers to do a quick survey of their level of safety against the three pillars of the Comprehensive School Safety Framework. This step aims to collect reliable and comprehensive data on schools. In cases where this quick self-assessment “red-flag” the results in pillar 1, the school needs to seriously consider structural interventions to ensure safe learning facilities, VISUS can be used.

VISUS is a technical assessment for use by engineers to assess the site, location, and external and internal parts of the building. The tool generates a thorough report with clear recommendations and provides cost estimates for school retrofiting/repairing activities. VISUS has been developed and tested in Italy by SPRINT Laboratory of the University of Udine on earthquake, and adapted and improved by Save the Children in Lao PDR, the government’s Comprehensive School Safety Technical Working Group and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO Paris).

Both the self-assessment and VISUS tools are tablet-based to enable officials and teachers to collect data and information using a holistic approach, for example, the input of information must be supported by evidence-based pictures. The aim of this approach is to give a quick report with clear recommendations to officials and teachers on safer school building and environment, which they can use for decision-making and for improving disaster risk reduction knowledge.

During March and October 2015, training and field test on the self-assessment tool and the VISUS tool were carried out, respectively. Save the Children, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports, and the Department of Education and Sports in Bolikhamxay province conducted the training and field test. The VISUS tool training was supported by UNESCO Paris and SPRINT Laboratory. Save the Children presented four tablets for use in the province’s four target districts, and selected two officials from each district whose work is related with the Education Department to be trained in their use.

“School safety assessment on tablet makes my work easier in terms of collecting information and taking photos of school buildings and locations. There are many useful questions in the assessment suite, which makes it easier to ask teachers and community members, and document their answers.”
– Mr Bounkong Khamvongsa, trainee from the Department of Education and Sports in Bolikhamxay province

“I thought of using the tablet-based tools would be difficult, but I realised tablets are like smartphones. After one day training, I preferred it to pen and paper for data collection. For example, the tablet would show a question, and I just had to tap on the appropriate answer choice…The tablet is very useful for developing disaster risk reduction plans of schools in our district.
– Mr. Niphon Luangsuvannavong, trainee from the Department of Education and Sports in Bolikhamxay province

It is neither easy nor convenient to collect information, it is also very handy for sharing the results of the assessment with school management and school teachers, particularly because of the presence of visuals.

“All the information and photos are on the tablet and this is useful when we talk to school management and teachers, and show them photos that pinpoint areas of vulnerability in the schools. The photos are very effective in ge%ng teachers and communities to consider the safety of their schools. The photos show clearly the parts of their school that require attention, and help identify the expenditures for retrofitting. The photos can also be used to raise awareness and initiate discussions on school safety among local government, the school and the community.”
– Mr. Bounkong Khamvongsa, trainee from the Department of Education and Sports in Bolikhamxay province

Achievements and Impact

Government officials from four districts of Bolikhamxay province now find it easier to work in disaster management and disaster risk reduction at local schools, by using digital-based data collection tools such as the self-assessment and the VISUS tool on tablets.

The digitisation of data and information on school safety has made it easier for district government officials to search, retrieve and collate relevant information for strategic planning. The dissemination and sharing of information is also more effective and quicker, by being able to show visuals directly from the tablet, and by sending the information via the Internet.

Some district government officials have found that the tablet-based assessment enhances school management and teachers’ understanding of the problems and the vulnerabilities a particular school faces. This in turn enhances cooperation between the school and the district education office.

CSSF Pillar 3 – Case Study 2: Disaster Risk Reduction Handbooks for Schools

Save the Children, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Sports developed Disaster Risk Reduction Handbooks for grades 3 to 6. In coordination with Bolikhamxay Provincial Education Department, the handbooks were distributed to enable teachers to integrate disaster risk reduction in their teaching and learning activities. The handbooks primarily address school disaster risk reduction and emergency management.

This initiative that started in 2013 is part of the outcome of a project entitled, “Scaling Up Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction” in Bolikhamxay province. This project aims to contribute to securing a child’s right to education and survival to disasters, and contribute to the implementation of the Comprehensive School Safety Framework in Lao PDR. The development of the Disaster Risk Reduction Handbooks is part of pillar 3 of the Comprehensive School Safety Framework, to reinforce teachers’ skills and increase both teachers’ and children’s knowledge on disaster risk management. The handbooks are also intended to better prepare the schools and children to access safe zones at schools, and help schools learn to cope with and reduce the impact of natural disasters.

The handbooks were distributed to education government officials at provincial and district levels as part of their mandate to support schools in quality education. During 2014-2015, the project moved into its second phase, and worked with 29 primary schools and 7 lower-secondary schools in three districts of Bolikhamxay. The project distributed 5,318 Disaster Risk Reduction Handbooks during this period.

Teacher Training to Integrate Disaster Risk Reduction in Lessons

Save the Children is part of a consortium with Care, OXFAM and French Red Cross on a Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction Project. This project is a programmatic complement to ASSI in Bolikhamxay Province. In addition to ASSI activities, Save the Children provided one-week training for the teachers, and they have been using the handbooks as a guide to prepare lessons on disaster risk reduction.

Teachers were trained to formally integrate disaster risk reduction in their lessons, but they were also trained on informal education meaning that were focused on games, songs and drawings with children. A training of trainers approach was used to create a multiplier effect. The teachers and school principals, supported by the district education officials, are in charge of replicating the training and developing the lessons.

Teachers have been using formal and informal methods to teach disaster risk reduction to their students. As part of the teaching process, schools have organised drills with students in order to make it more realistic and alive. The different teaching methods have enabled children to gain skills and knowledge about disaster risk reduction, which they have shared with their family and peers.

“My teachers taught me how to save myself from earthquakes, landslides, floods and storms, which will be very useful for me when I have to face a real disaster. I can now share what I have learned with my friends, about how we should prepare for disasters.”
– Airnoy, 10-year-old student

“Last year, I had disaster risk reduction lessons for one hour every week. The lessons gave me a better understanding of the dangers of thunderstorms and flooding, and how to protect myself from disasters. I can now teach my younger sister and my parents, and encourage them to prepare for disasters. I have learned that we should move our properties and livestock to higher ground before a flood.”
– Bai, 12-year-old student

“After introducing disaster risk reduction lessons, we planted trees to reduce the danger from storms and high winds.”
– Phethmany Vongphenh, Director of Napaeng Primary School

The schools emphasised practical exercises, including school drills, and creative ways of learning, e.g. through songs, games and multimedia presentations.

“After learning the concepts, the teachers would take us to the playground to practice how we should prepare for disasters and how we should act when a disaster occurs…We are not only learning about how to cope with disasters. My teachers taught me about keeping myself safe from diseases at school such as drinking clean water or boiling water, and washing my hands before and after I eat.”
– Bai, 12-year-old student

“I like practicing disaster risk reduction in the school playground because they help me understand what I should do if I am faced with a disaster.”
– Airnoy, 10-year-old student

“We have composed a song for students about how to save themselves when disasters occur, which makes it easier for children to remember. They will enjoy singing the song, and at the same time, learn about how to cope with disasters.”
– Somchai Luangthep, teacher at Napaeng Primary School

Parents’ Involvement in School Safety

Schools and communities in small villages of Lao PDR are often very connected because the school disaster management committees work in close collaboration with village disaster preparedness units (VDPU), and very often, VDPU members and school committee members are the same people. This arrangement helps to engage parents and community in disaster risk reduction at school level. Through these members, schools and parents have been working as a network to take decisions benefiting schools and the entire community, including choosing the mitigation activities that will be implemented.

The schools involved parents and the community in disaster risk reduction, including raising their awareness, and engaging them in the school safety assessment process.

“The combination of the disaster risk reduction lessons and the district authorities’ tablet-based comprehensive school safety assessment has been very beneficial for the school. Save the Children helps us hold discussions with the community to develop a school safety plan, and parents and district officials are cooperating with the school to repair our facilities.”
– Phethmany Vongphenh, Director of Napaeng Primary School

Achievements and Impact

The capacity of the schools, teachers, students and the communities to cope with disasters has increased. Communities are more actively involved in the safety of the school.

“Before the project, teachers told children to hurry back home ahead of an impending storm. But now, teachers tell the students to stay at the school until the storm or rain has passed.”
– Somchai Luangthep, teacher at Napaeng Primary School


Comprehensive school safety assessment tool

The VISUS tool is available so far only in English, as translation of technical/ engineer work in Lao PDR is complex and difficult. The quick self-assessment, however, is available in both languages – Lao and English.

Translation of content into the Lao language is essential for ease of understanding and usage. For the quick self-assessment that is in the Lao language, users have commented that the questions that need to be answered are not always clear. This makes it difficult for the district government officials to collect information. It is important to conduct more than one test to ensure that the translated content in the self-assessment is easy to understand and user-friendly.

Equipment and the Internet infrastructure

One tablet per district is insufficient for conducting district-wide school assessments. Moreover, Lao PDR’s Internet penetration is 14% in 20143, which is relatively low compared with other countries in the region. Working with the government to identify equipment and infrastructure needs for the roll out of the tablet-based school safety assessment tools is important.

Training on the VISUS tool

A stand-alone one-day training is insufficient. Mechanisms need to be in place for longer training courses, refresher courses, and help desk support.

Creating disaster risk reduction lessons

Teachers generally find it challenging to create disaster risk reduction lessons as disaster risk reduction is a new topic for them and it takes time to understand the concepts. There are also insufficient teaching and learning materials such as posters and brochures in Lao language that teachers can use. Models and multimedia simulations to demonstrate the effects of disasters that do not occur frequently, like earthquakes, are needed. Moreover, each school is faced with unique challenges depending on its location, and the hazards that it is exposed to. Other challenges include ensuring the safety of the school for persons with disabilities, and for ethnic minorities that have difficulty understanding the Lao language.


VISUS is a technical tool for engineers so there is a strong need to engage more engineers from the Ministry of Education and Sports and the National University of Lao PDR to make sure the skills and knowledge are rooted in the country and human resources are available to support the field work. A next step identified involves making sure that there is at least one VISUS focal point in the National University of Lao PDR to work closely with the Construction Unit of the Ministry of Education and Sports.

Government officials from the Ministry of Education and Sports at national, provincial and district levels are generally convinced of the value of the tool for promoting school safety. Discussions on the use of tablets in schools for teaching activities at the district level, the translation of the application into the Lao language, further field testing of the tool, and additional training programmes have been identified as some next steps to follow up. Moreover, the self-assessment needs to be widely disseminated for use as part of a safe school tool package. The Comprehensive School Safety Assessment Suite needs to be better integrated in the Education Management Information System to reinforce the importance of disaster risk reduction data for decision-making in the education sector. The data collected is reported to and owned by the Ministry of Education and Sports. Public access to the data stored in the government’s server is still under discussion.

ASSI identified that further enhancement of the capacity of schools, teachers, students and community in school safety and disaster risk reduction are required to ensure that finding of the assessments are incorporated in school and community plans and addressed.

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