Institutionalized education first appeared in Laos in the traditional pagoda schools operated in tandem with Buddhist temples. In most respects, they closely resembled their counterparts in traditional Cambodia. When Laos was colonized by France in the late 19th century, these were the sole educational institutions in the country and were staffed by monks (bonzes), who were aided by novices. only during the first decade of the 20th century, when French-sponsored schools began to appear in provincial towns and elsewhere, were trained, secular teachers employed. They received their training in a Franco-Laotian school in the capital city of Vientiane. 1 A number of monks who were trained in this manner instead of accepting teaching positions "sought civil service posts for personal advancement and better pay." 2
The traditional structure of the country embraced a small elite of native- born Lao and a large group of Lao villagers who lived and worked in lowland areas. Another half of the population consisted of assorted minorities, most of whom resided in highland areas, including mountain tops. These latter were known as tribals. Because most populated places were ethnically homogeneous, and the tribals were not Buddhists, they were excluded from pagoda schools. As a consequence, their children had no access to any schooling whatever. This continued into the second half of the 20th century for most tribal children.
Chinese and Vietnamese more or less controlled economic life, education, and the lower reaches of government administration. Vietnamese made up more than half the population in six larger towns, where their children had access to the best and most advanced schools. 3 As Toye wrote, Laos "depended largely on