The proposed 2015 education budget is inching upwards from last year’s funding, however it still falls short of internationally recommended minimums.
Education is slated to take up a $396 million chunk of the $3.75 billion draft budget, which has yet to be approved by the National Assembly, according to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
Despite a $61 million bump from 2014, Cambodia’s 2015 education expenditure will still lag behind its ASEAN neighbours.
UNESCO recommends countries dedicate 4 to 6 per cent of GDP to education. Thailand allocates nearly 4 per cent, Vietnam spends over 6 per cent and Laos’ overall education funding exceeds 2.8 per cent. By contrast, Cambodia devotes barely more than 2 per cent of its GDP to education.
“With less than the suggested minimum, the Ministry of Education will need to prioritise, which could lead to not enough funding for reforms, and issues that need to be addressed getting ignored,” said Chin Chanveasna, executive director of the NGO Education Partnership.
The Education Ministry said it intends on allocating 77 per cent of its increased budget to cover raises for teachers and staff.
Earlier this year, the ministry announced a schedule of pay boosts that would see teachers earning between 550,000 riel and 800,000 riel (about $138 to $200), with further raises expected in December.
“The increased money will cover the salary reforms mainly, and then the school budgets and also scholarships, among other things,” said Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron.
“It’s a big increase. We will have to prove the current budget can get results, and then we could ask for more.”
But educators argued that the system is in dire need of more funding, with salaries still too low and schools still cash-strapped.
“Currently, Wat Koh [High School] has 200 teachers, and I can see that their salaries are not enough for them. Some survive by charging for extra classes or courses. Some have second jobs,” said Chhun Sarom, the school director. “I’m sure that not just our school but other schools need more books, buildings, restrooms, tables and chairs, because the old stuff keeps getting unusable.”
In response to infrastructure needs, the ministry’s budget proposal also set aside $9 million for building new schools. The fund includes plans for a new engineering college within the Royal University of Phnom Penh, which would break ground in 2015.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he had “mentioned” increasing education funding during budget working group meetings, but declined to say whether the party would support the passage of a budget that did not include further increases.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment.