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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cut illiteracy rate and promote reading, notes new survey

Cut illiteracy rate and promote reading, notes new survey

The nation's most comprehensive survey on publishing has determined that Cambodians

suffer from a combination of high illiteracy levels, a lack of newspapers and publications

in the Khmer language - particularly in rural areas - and poor financial prospects

for authors.

The survey, which was discussed at a conference on publishing in Phnom Penh on February

4, is unique as it is the first to cover the full gamut of publishing, from the writer

to the reader.

It noted several measures to improve Cambodia's unenviable position as the country

with the second-lowest literacy rate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

(ASEAN).

"The promotion of reading and the alleviation of illiteracy are key requirements

in the improvement [of] the situation of publishing in Cambodia," the report

stated.

Participants at the conference discussed possible measures to improve the lack of

a culture of literacy. Ly Daravuth, director of the Reyum Institute, said the aim

was to raise awareness of these problems and find ways to improve literacy.

Two of the main recommendations from participants were: to establish an independent

book sector association, and constructing a national information policy that will

provide access to information for all.

Daravuth said everyone involved would need to work together if the local publishing

industry was to move forward. A successful association would require assistance from

both government and the private sector.

"There is currently no coordination between editors, publishers, distributors,"

Daravuth said. "This is a matter of mutual help to promote the publishing sector."

Those surveyed included readers, editors, publishers, novelists, printers and distributors.

One student noted the poor writing standards in Khmer newspapers; others involved

pointed out the high production cost of books, and high illiteracy levels.

Survey team leader Helen Jarvis echoed Daravuth's opinion on the need for a combined

effort to overcome the problems. She told the seminar that Prime Minister Hun Sen

had called for a national information policy, saying that every citizen should have

access to information.

"We need the linkages between the different parts of the book sector,"

Jarvis said. "We need an institution - a book sector association. The main problem

is the linkage, not money."

She said there was a significant gap between urban residents, who were more likely

to be "information rich", and rural people who were generally "information

poor". She noted that 63 percent of the adult population is illiterate, and

the country suffers from a lack of libraries.

"Even if we have a literacy campaign, or people graduate from school, what do

they have to read?" she asked. "There are only a few libraries. We should

establish libraries throughout the country with books of interest to the people.

Also, writers cannot make a living from writing, and printing costs are much more

expensive than in neighboring countries."

The survey, Publishing in Cambodia, was conducted and funded by the Center for Khmer

Studies, the Reyum Institute and the Toyota Foundation. It is available (at cost)

in both Khmer and English from the Reyum Institute at 47, Street 178.

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