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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Literacy target of a Sustainable Development Goal

Michelle Obama visits a school in Siem Reap in March 2015. youth literacy rate (aged 15-24) has now reached 92.2 percent, with only a narrow gap between men and women.
Michelle Obama visits a school in Siem Reap in March 2015. youth literacy rate (aged 15-24) has now reached 92.2 percent, with only a narrow gap between men and women. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Literacy target of a Sustainable Development Goal

The education level of citizens tells a lot about the economic development of a country, and human resources that are more competent are a key factor for fostering the country’s development. The governmental leadership and policymakers acknowledge the vital role of a strong human resource base in complementing other investments and policies to boost productivity and economic growth.

Thus, high level literacy skills not only benefit individuals in their higher education opportunities, but also facilitate their access to decent job employment that enable them to move out of the poverty trap and to join the world of work. In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing technological world, literacy should not be limited to the ability of basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. It should extend to ICT and digital skills, as well as perspective of lifelong learning where everyone in the society will have to keep up their literacy skills via various ways of learning, beyond the formal learning setting.

Cambodia has made gradual progress in terms of promoting access to education and quality education, as well as the literacy rate of adult population aged 15 and above. The Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey 2015 report shows that the adult literacy rate has increased up to 80.5 percent.

Even more striking, the youth literacy rate (aged 15-24) has now reached 92.2 percent, with only a narrow gap between men and women. However, data show there is still a 10 percent difference between men and women among the adult population, as well as between urban and rural areas.

The achievement of 80.5 percent adult literacy in 2015, up from 78.1 percent in 2014, resulted from the strong commitments of the government and Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) in cooperation with development partners, especially Unesco, in implementing the National Literacy Campaign 2015.

This year, with global attention and country commitment to the new agenda of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) – Education 2030, “Literacy in a Digital World” is the international theme of the literacy event. Its aim is to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally mediated societies, and also to explore effective literacy policies and programmes that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides.

In this regards, the MoEYS, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and Unesco, in cooperation with Smart Telecom, are in the process of developing an ICT-based Basic Education Equivalency Programme (BEEP) by targeting out-of-school youth to complete basic education to the lower secondary level. The ministry and Unesco are engaging specialised government agencies, development partners, NGOs and the private sector in these efforts. BEEP is a useful supplementary mechanism to what is already implemented by the MoEYS, known as Complementary Education Programme and/or Secondary Education Equivalency Programme, which currently absorbs a small number of enrolment from out-of-school youth to this level. By introducing BEEP as online learning modality, the MoEYS expects to address the learning needs of out-of-school youth and young adults, especially those who have to seek employment without completing a basic education level. The programme will enable the learners to complete basic education while continuing their work and improve the overall basic education completion rate in the country.

Despite the success made by the MoEYS in terms of access to primary education level (93.5 percent for 2016-2017 school year), only 55.7 percent and 25.1 percent have enrolled in lower and upper secondary level. The same CSES shows the low level of education attainment among the population aged 25 and above. The figures show that 20.7 percent have no education, 36 percent have some education and only 22 percent with primary level completion. Only 16.7 percent have completed secondary education level.

Those low rates result from the need for children to drop out of school to work and contribute to household income. This situation is still the major barrier to education and represents more than one third of the factors.
To respond to the challenges, the MoEYS has identified eight priorities in the education sector, including: (i) improve the quality of learning and teaching; (ii) increase civil service and teachers’ salaries and introduce merit-based appointments; (iii) provide more resources to the front-line providers; (iv) reform the examination system; (v) establish a policy think tank for education; (vi) reform youth and vocational skills programmes; and (vii) implement higher education reform and student job counselling.

In Non-Formal Education (NFE), initiatives of reviewing existing literacy and NFE policy and curriculum, in the perspective of LLL are on the right time whereas the MoEYS and development partners are in the process of formulating Cambodia’s SDG4-Education 2030 Roadmap. The roadmap sets vision for education by 2030, and its education policy strategies in order to respond to the country’s vision to be an upper-middle-income country by 2030. In the MDGs and EFA mandate, Target 4 on Literacy aims to improve level of literacy by half for all adults, especially for women.

In line with the International Theme for Literacy this year, the MoEYS has initiated and taken two approaches to provide different levels of literacy services to meet the learning needs required by learners. One is basic literacy level to enable learners to have more literacy proficiency skills, and another is to advance the learner literacy proficiency skills in the perspective of LLL.

The Literacy Project for Factory Workers aims to enable young women and girls working in garment factories to acquire basic literacy skills to improve their daily life as well as communication and performance at work. Learning from the National Literacy Campaign and continuing the efforts in advancing lifelong learning opportunities for all, the MoEYS and Unesco, in cooperation with Ministry of Women Affairs, Sipar, Smart Telecom and other national and international partners, aims to introduce a literacy package for illiterate adults.

This programme is being currently implemented in 11 factories with 166 women and 12 men in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kandal, Kampong Speu and Svay Rieng. The class activities run with additional digital learning material. The learners can practise what they learn through an online app developed with Sipar support on their smart phone and other digital devices equipped in the factory libraries.

Today, as we celebrate the International and National Literacy Day, the MoEYS and Unesco would like to thank government ministries, development partners and Sipar and CWPD NGO partners, civil society as well as Smart Telecom and all the private sector for the support and cooperation in promoting lifelong literacy in Cambodia.

Dr Hang Chuon Naron is the minister of education, youth and sport. Anne Lemaistre is the Unesco representative in Cambodia.

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