Monday, March 5, 2012

Cambodia’s Impoverished Education System

Cambodia’s Impoverished Education System.

By Bill Costello

I recently traveled to Cambodia to research their education system. During my visit, I stopped by the campus of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the oldest and largest university in the nation, to talk to professors, administrators, and students. I also visited the Chroy Changvar Primary School in Phnom Penh where I observed students learning.

Cambodia’s education system has been significantly affected by three major events over the past century: French colonial rule, the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk, and the Khmer Rouge regime.

While Cambodia had been a French colony since 1863, the French colonial government did not institute an education system in the nation until 1917.

Accessible primarily by the elite, enrollment was sparse.

Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk helped the nation gain independence from France in 1953. For the following two decades, Sihanouk’s government gradually improved the education system by expanding elementary and secondary education throughout the nation and by establishing higher learning institutions.

All the progress made under Sihanouk was reversed when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge deliberately destroyed Cambodia’s education system by discarding books, closing schools, and killing teachers. The irony is that Pol Pot was a teacher himself.

Pol Pot even converted one school, the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, into a prison and interrogation center called “Security Prison 21” (S-21). Over 14,000 people died there. Only seven people survived the prison when it was liberated in 1979.

Ever since the Khmer Rouge regime ended in 1979, Cambodia has been rebuilding its education system starting from the ground up. Three decades later, Cambodia’s education system still has a long way to go.

The most pervasive problems stem from the low wages teachers receive.

Because teachers’ salaries start from US$50 per month, teachers often have to supplement their income to survive. Many take second jobs that limit the amount of time available to prepare lesson plans and teach at school.

While public education is supposed to be free, many teachers charge their students informal fees for attending class. Daily bribes cost roughly US$0.20 per day. Thus, poorer students receive less of an education and often end up dropping out.

According to UNESCO, Cambodia only spends 1.6% of GDP on education. In contrast, governments around the world spend much more: East Asia and the Pacific (2.8%); Central Asia (2.8%); Central and Eastern Europe (4.2%); Latin America and the Caribbean (4.4%); sub-Saharan Africa (4.5%); the Arab States (4.9%); North America and Western Europe (5.6%).

At a time when much of Asia is on the rise, Cambodia is being left behind largely because its education system is unable to produce a skilled workforce.

To join the regional and international economies, Cambodia needs to significantly increase its budget for education. Until education becomes a top priority and teachers earn a decent wage, the Cambodian government will continue to deny its citizens the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute meaningfully to the economy.


No comments:

Post a Comment