Of the many ethnic groups in Laos, only the Lao Loum had a tradition of formal education, reflecting the fact that the languages of the other groups had no written script. Until the midtwentieth century, education was primarily based in the Buddhist wat, where the monks taught novices and other boys to read both Lao and Pali scripts, basic arithmetic, and other religious and social subjects. Many villages had wat schools for novices and other village boys. only ordained boys and men in urban monasteries had access to advanced study. The Pathet Lao began to offer Lao language instruction in the schools under its control in the late 1950s, and a Laotian curriculum began to be developed in the late 1960s in the RLG schools. In 1970 about one-third of the civilian employees of the RLG were teachers, although the majority of these were poorly paid and minimally trained elementary teachers. At that time, there were about 200,000 elementary students listed in RLG schools, around 36 % of the school-age population.
Education for the Lao Lum traditionally took place in the wat, where Buddhist monks taught boys the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. Other ethnic groups did not have traditions of formal education. Under French rule, from 1893 to 1953, education was limited to an urban elite. From 1953 to 1975, the royal Lao government developed a modern education system with a Lao curriculum, but even so it catered to only about one-third of the school-age population. When the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party came to power in 1975, it placed great emphasis on education, particularly on eradication of illiteracy. It had few resources, and standards fell.