Laos’ High School Graduates Flocking to Chinese Studies in University

As Beijing’s investment in Laos increases, more students see the Chinese language as an essential skill.
2021.08.30
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Laos’ High School Graduates Flocking to Chinese Studies in University This Jan. 2020 file photo shows a Chinese language school in Houeyxay, Bokeo Province, Laos that is supported by the Construction Department of China's Guangdong province.
Citizen Journalist

Recent high school graduates in Laos are increasingly opting to study Chinese at university in hopes of finding better employment, indicating that the country's youth feel that Laos’s future lies with Beijing, students told RFA.

Chinese investment in Laos was a mere 1.5 percent of its total foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2003, but Beijing accounted for 79 percent of FDI in Laos in 2018. The sharp rise in investment has prompted job hunters in Laos to view proficiency in the Chinese language as an essential skill.

A student who graduated from a high school in the capital Vientiane told RFA’s Lao Service that students are flocking to the Chinese language major because they believe that after graduation it will be easier to find a high-paying job, and that most businesses will need workers who can speak Chinese.

Another recent graduate from the northeastern province of Hua Phanh told RFA that he chose to take the entrance exam to the National University of Laos to major in Chinese language as his first choice and English language as a second choice.

“I think in the future businesses will need people who know Chinese. At the present time, markets here in the northern parts of Laos mostly sell products from China,” the Hua Phanh student said.

“Laos will also have a high-speed rail connecting to China, so we will need more people who speak Chinese,” the student said, referring to the high-speed  Lao-China Railway, scheduled for completion in December.

In the southern province of Savannakhet, another recent graduate told RFA that he would study Chinese, following in the footsteps of his older brother and sister.

They graduated as Chinese majors from the National University and have jobs with salaries of five to six million kip (U.S. $523 – 627) per month, higher than even government officials.

“If you have a job with a high salary working with Chinese people, you get more money than working with Lao employers,” the Savannakhet student said.

'It's just easier to find a job'

In Oudomxay province, in the northwest, a recent graduate there said that many of Oudomxay’s students are also opting to study Chinese.

“It’s just easier to find a job as a Chinese language speaker. We can learn Chinese at the Chinese center in town. If we’re good at it we can become Chinese teachers,” the Oudomxay student said.

“Oudomxay has a lot of Chinese investments, so if anyone can speak Chinese, they are preferred at hiring time,” he said.

A professor of Chinese language at the National University of Laos said that its Chinese language department will only accept 240 people into the major this year, which is slightly higher than the previous year’s 200.

“Lao students want to learn Chinese because they know that Laos will have the high-speed train and that it will bring in even more Chinese investment projects,” the professor said.

“Chinese investment in Laos will of course require Lao workers who can speak Chinese, and they can earn higher salaries that way,” the professor said.

According to statistics from the website of the National University of Laos, Chinese language was the most popular major for new students in the 2021-2022 school year, with 988 taking the entrance exam. The next most popular major was economics, followed by management and then banking and finance.

Partnerships with schools

In an effort to promote studies of Chinese language and culture worldwide, Beijing has established partnerships with foreign universities to set up language schools, called Confucius Institutes.

The Confucius Institute at the National University of Laos is by far the largest and most popular Chinese language school in the country, an employee of the institute told RFA in February.

Universities in China have also been setting up campuses in Laos.

“Soochow University in Laos is also expanding by building a new campus in the Vientiane suburbs. Several hundred students who attend the university want to continue their studies at Soochow University in China,” the institute employee said.

Though the World Bank in October 2020 acknowledged that Laos has made many developmental gains over the past two decades by halving poverty,  decreasing malnutrition, and improving education and health, it also said that Vientiane could do better at schooling children.

“A child born in Laos today will only be half as productive as she could be if she enjoyed full health and education… While a Lao child goes to school for 10.8 years on average, she only receives the equivalent of 6.4 years of learning,” the World Bank said.

According to UNESCO, in 2019 91.6 percent of Lao children of primary school age were enrolled in schools, but for secondary school-aged students the enrollment figure was 58.8 percent.

UNICEF in 2017 reported that only a third of Lao students in grade 3 met literacy standards, and only a fifth passed math standards for promotion to grade 4.

“For each additional year of education among young adults, poverty rates were 9 percent lower,” the report said.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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Ta khaow
Aug 31, 2021 12:56 AM

Laos is going to be a new China's province soon. And most of the Lao people will speak Chinese as their main language not Lao language anymore

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