The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on Primary Education Policy in Laos
Laos is a poor and aid-dependent country in South-East Asia. Its primary education development has depended heavily on external assistance, which has caused some scholars to argue that education policy is shaped by this influence. While major donors have played a significant role in driving Lao primary education development, NGOs are increasingly engaging in the process since Laos has adopted global commitments, particularly the Education for All goals of the Millennium Development Goals. While the Government of Laos values NGOs’ contributions as equally to those of major donors, it commonly views NGOs as ‘service providers’ and major donors as ‘policy counterparts’. The government is wary of NGOs’ mission and this has also shaped NGOs’ space in the policy arena. This thesis has examined the extent to which NGOs have influenced Lao primary education policy since the adoption of the Vientiane Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2006. This research draws on a social constructivist epistemology, and data collection employed qualitative methods including semi-structured interviews, analysis of relevant policy documents, and participant observation. The interviews involved 24 participants representing government agencies, NGOs, donor organisations and education specialists. The main focus of interviews was to explore the degree of NGOs’ influence on primary education policy, the mechanisms and strategies that NGOs use to exercise their influence, and how such mechanisms and strategies have impacted on their role at policy level. The findings indicate that NGOs have limited influence on Lao primary education policy. Although they have some influence through participating in policy dialogues, they have minimal influence on the outcomes of policy development. The fact that NGOs have limited influence on policy outcomes is attributed partly to their limited financial capacity and partly the limits of their specialised expertise to support and convince the government for policy change. The deciding factor, nevertheless, is the government’s reluctance to integrate NGOs’ advice and recommendations into Lao primary education policy due to its wariness of NGOs’ influence, particularly on politically sensitive issues.