Education in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge Regime mirrored the French system. Today, it is six years of primary school (grades 1-6), three years of lower secondary school (grades 7-9), and three years of upper secondary school (grades 10-12), following more of a westernised educational model.
In 1979, after the Pol Pot regime, the Ministry of Education was created, and later restructured in 1998. Today, there is no legislation in place to regulate the new system, and also, only a small budget is allocated to education by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Do we have a problem here?
According to UNESCO, only 1.6 per cent of Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is spent on education. The GDP on education in most western countries is anywhere between 5.5 to 6.4 per cent.
In Phnom Penh, I see more Lexus cars than anywhere else in the world, and I hope the money allocated isn’t going to purchasing Lexus cars, the luxury car made by Toyota.
The government still denies the education sector the funding it needs, even though they are aware of the important role that education plays in the development of the country.
The main focus of the education system is on basic literacy.
Having worked in the education sector, and having former colleagues and friends who work in education, we have witnessed unethical acts
by teachers and the corruption in the education system.
The dilemma which many teachers are faced with is whether to cross the line between the ethical code of teaching and trying to survive on a teacher’s low salary.
Their decision is based on survival, and many have resorted to charging their students tuition fees and taking bribes for “passing grades” in examinations.
Also, many spend less time in the classroom as they have additional employment elsewhere to supplement their low teaching salaries.
In addition, the classrooms are under-equipped and lack proper teaching materials due to the shortage of funding. In several cases, much of the equipment and supplies have been stolen by staff members at their institutions.
With these problems facing the education sector, and the school-age population continuing to grow, the government still denies the funding it needs to realise its important role in the development of the country.
Why not pay the teachers a higher salary so they can focus on just one occupation, as a teacher, a much needed role in our society. Implement programs to provide free education to all the children, not just selected individuals or groups.
Countries like Brazil, Greece, Denmark, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Barbados provide free education which is funded through charitable organisations or taxation.
Finally, it is evident that there is a wide gap between the economic classes, with more than half of the population living in poverty in Cambodia.
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and there is a small percentage of the middle class, but it is growing.
Education is the only answer to getting people out of poverty and giving a brighter future for the young generations in Cambodia.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.