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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Districts to be handed primary schools’ reins

Students leave a Preah Vihear primary school after class late last year.
Students leave a Preah Vihear primary school after class late last year. Hong Menea

Districts to be handed primary schools’ reins

Beginning this year, the Education Ministry will hand over management of 625 primary schools, 4,874 teachers and over 170,000 students to 14 districts in Battambang as part of a new initiative to decentralise and improve primary education.

The districts will also absorb the management of about 200 state-run pre-schools and kindergartens, in addition to hundreds of community pre-schools, said Ngan Chamroeun, deputy head of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development.

Chamrouen yesterday acknowledged that a challenge with decentralisaton has long been that ministries are reluctant to let go of their powers, but added that the Ministry of Education’s “strong commitment” could serve as a “good example” for other ministries.

“It’s a huge move,” he said.

The decentralisation of primary schools will be expanded to another five provinces in 2017, and to 15 more in 2018, with the nationwide rollout to be completed in 2019, Chamroeun said.

However, he added, “this is just a plan, and it will depend on the progress” in the 14 districts.

The Ministry of Education on Friday released a copy of the sub-decree outlining the change, which is designed to “improve” the quality of services and bring more accountability. Ministry spokesman Ros Salin didn’t respond to requests for comment on the change yesterday.

According to the sub-decree, district governors will have full control of staff, budget allocation for schools and property infrastructure, as well as teacher reviews. District and municipal governors will also have the power to licence private schools and shutter them if they are not meeting standards.

Money and staff will also be reassigned from the ministry to the districts, Chamroeun said. Long Sotheoeun, Battambang’s Ek Phnom district governor, welcomed the move. He will manage a total of 52 schools, and said officials will be better able to respond to the local needs.

But others weren’t so thrilled. “I am very concerned because it’s not going to be an easy task,” said Soun Kurn, Battambang’s Phnom Proek district governor, who will oversee 39 schools.

Observers also had mixed feelings on the decision.San Chey, executive director for Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he “recommended and appreciated the decentralisation of primary school . . . to improve services”.

However, Preap Kol, executive director for Transparency International Cambodia, cautioned that oversight was necessary, saying the ministry “should establish a mechanism to monitor performance and conduct assessments”.

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