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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Big plans to revamp education system

Big plans to revamp education system

F OR years the Cambodian education system has operated on the premise: "Those who

know more teach those who know less; those who know less teach those who know


It's a simple theory which sums up the piecemeal nature of

education in Cambodia and its basic problems - a lack of teachers, training and


Cambodia is still recovering from the loss of teachers, professors

and "intellectuals" targeted for execution in the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79


Today, many teachers know little more than their


According to Minister of Education Tol Lah, 40-50 percent of

primary school teachers never finished secondary school, and about five percent

never completed primary school.

As well as poorly-trained teachers, the

education system suffers similar deficiencies in its buildings, textbooks and


The Ministry of Education estimates that 20 percent of

Cambodia's schools need rebuilding, and at least half need


Some schools, particularly in remote areas, are no more than

shacks or dilapidated old buildings.

"Nobody is happy to teach or to

learn in a school with no roof, no walls or no chairs," says Anne Dykstra,

education manager of UNICEF.

"What would you think if you were sitting

under the heat of the sun or in the rain?"

Some schools have no

electricity or water supplies, let alone libraries or laboratories. Even simple

materials such as textbooks are rare in more remote parts of Cambodia, Dykstra


Even better-equipped schools, such as those in Phnom Penh, have

problems. Classes are frequently over-crowded, with 80 to 90 students where

there should be only 35.

Because of the pressures they work under - and

all for low wages - some teachers are simply unwilling to teach their


Dykstra says some teachers take second jobs or teach private

classes, where the standard of their teaching is better than in their regular


Cambodia faces a massive task in rebuilding Cambodia's education

system, and one in which money is a basic obstacle.

Much of the progress

to date - such as the rehabilitation of about 3000 classrooms and construction

of 1000 new ones - has been funded by foreign donors.

As for the

government, only eight percent of Cambodia's national budget goes toward

education - compared to around 23 percent before the 1970s - according to Tol


He says he has asked the government to pay the Ministry of Education

20,000 riels a month per teacher for teacher-training programs, but there has

not yet been a response.

In December, the ministry hosted an Education

Donor Roundtable conference to appeal for money to fund a $200 million education

reform plan.

So far, some $96 million, including $20 million in loans,

has been pledged by donor countries and international organizations.


says more money is needed, but Cambodia has to begin working with what it has so


The ministry has launched an ambitious five-year reform program -

the first major shake-up of the education system since the KR virtually

abolished it in 1975.

The three key aims are to improve the quality of

education, access to education, and educational planning and


Among individual targets are to:


  • Increase the number of years students spend at primary school from five to

    six, starting next year

  • Increase primary school students' schools hours to 900 per year by 1999,

    from 600 hours currently

  • Build 4,500 new classrooms by the year 2000, and reserve positions for

    360,000 new students each year

  • Publish 15 million copies of textbooks for all school levels by 1998
  • Introduce a new curriculum, and a new national examination system

Sou Muy Kieng, a member of the ministry's reform committee, says the program

is supported by the European Union, UNICEF and UNESCO.

The EU has

launched a $16 million program to help the primary education system, including

teacher training, supplying school materials and upgrading data


Hour Serey, a ministry consultant to the EU's education program,

says about 3000 primary teachers will be given training to help them qualify as

professional teachers.

The training is being given by correspondence.

Since last month, the EU has been giving study books to teachers around


For those who successfully complete the study, the EU will

subsidize their wages by $6 per month, and $12 for those living in six more

remote provinces.

The EU will also train about 650 teacher-trainers,

administrators and principals.

Meanwhile, the government last month

announced the introduction of new subjects, such as safety, hygiene, arts,

civics and social sciences, to the primary school curriculum.

Sou Muy

Kieng says he expects most existing subjects to be changed as well, but

particularly mathematics, Khmer literature and history.

One of the

ministry's first moves has been to distribute a photocopied temporary history

textbook, replacing an earlier one produced under the former communist regime in

the early 1980s.

Muy Kieng says the previous textbook referred to King

Norodom Sihanouk in a way which was "not appropriate". Supote Prasertsri,

Education Program Specialist of UNESCO, says much of the current school

curriculum was copied from Vietnam.

History textbooks, for instance, are

very positive toward Vietnam and the former State of Cambodia regime.


have to teach the students the negatives and positives of all regimes... the

reality of the country," he says.

Prasertsri, who recently conducted a

survey of the education system, says most students have poor understanding of

economics and business.

He believes introducing more business-related

subjects is a priority, so graduating students can start their own business

rather than rely on the government for jobs.

The ministry has been

looking at curriculums in other countries, and experts from Switzerland,

Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have been to Cambodia to help work on a

new curriculum.

Anne Dykstra, of UNICEF, said improving the quality of

textbooks, and ensuring free access to them, is vital.

"It's important

that the teachers have them, to be able to prepare lessons, and that the

students have them so they can learn by themselves even if they do not attend

the class.

"We should provide free textbooks to all levels of students

and teachers," she said.

UNICEF has been funding the printing of about

2-2.5 million textbooks a year since 1992, as well as its other programs to

train primary teachers and repair and build schools.

Dykstra says

creating a solid education system is a huge job which will take 20 to 30 years,

but "we have to go step by step".



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