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Left behind in the northeast

Girls suffer especially from what report labels ‘acute education deprivation’.

THREE-quarters of girls in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces spend fewer than two years in primary and secondary education, far more than the national average of 12 percent, according to a report to be released in Phnom Penh today that identifies northeast Cambodia as one of 20 regions worldwide facing “acute education deprivation”.

The 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, titled “Reaching the Marginalised”, was produced to assess progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for education.

To meet that goal, Cambodia must facilitate universal access to nine years of basic education, a target that the report suggests is a long way from being achieved.

“In Cambodia’s most disadvantaged provinces, young women average just 1.8 years of school, compared with 3.2 years for young men,” the report reads, referring to Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri.

And enrolment is not the only area in which Cambodia is coming up short. National literacy rates for 15-to-24-year-olds are projected to reach 89 percent for females and 93 percent for males by 2015, falling below the MDG target of 95 percent for females and 100 percent for males.

Sun Lei, an education specialist for UNESCO in Phnom Penh, said on Sunday that although girls are disproportionately affected by limited education resources, all students in remote provinces – and especially in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri – face barriers to learning.

“Most of the children out of schools are from remote areas, and many are ethnic minorities,” she said.

Sao Vansey, executive director of Indigenous Community Support Organisation, a local NGO, said many factors contribute to low attendance in
the two provinces, which have the highest concentration of indigenous people in Cambodia, many of whom live in extremely remote areas. These include poverty, distance from schools and cultural values that don’t prioritise formal education, he said.

“They are living mostly in the forests, and the children are often working to help support their families,” he said. “More schools need to be built in remote areas, and more indigenous teachers are needed.”

In Samrithy, executive director of the NGO Education Partnership, a networking organisation that facilitates communication between the government and education NGOs, said one way for the government to reach more ethnic minority students would be to increase the number of teachers fluent in indigenous languages.

“The increase in bilingual language will make sure that ethnic minority children have access to schools, because sometimes they don’t understand Khmer language,” he said, adding that the Kingdom’s nationwide teacher shortage is especially acute in remote areas, where, he said, there is often only one teacher for every 40 students.

He also highlighted the need to discourage the collection of “informal fees”, which are commonly demanded by teachers to pay for supplies and to supplement their government salaries. This practice, he said, is particularly burdensome for poor students.

Ly Samik, deputy director of Mondulkiri’s Education Department, said there is a marked gender gap in schools there at the secondary level.

“Around 30 to 33 percent of students are female in high schools in Mondulkiri province,” he said.

He said girls were more likely than boys to leave school to support their families, and that they were more likely to be turned off by poor infrastructure, citing as an example a lack of toilets.

Sun Lei also said that ethnic minority girls from remote areas are more likely to drop out, but noted that the failure to retain girls at the secondary level is a nationwide trend.

“The enrolment rate in primary schools is almost the same [for boys and girls], but there is disparity at the secondary level. There are many different reasons for this. For instance, the school environment may not be so friendly for girls as for boys, and many girls have to stay home to help look after their siblings,” she said. “If only one child can attend school, most parents will send a boy rather than a girl.”

The report states that Cambodia is working to make access to education more equal, pointing to an “innovative” scheme supported by the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction aimed at encouraging girls to continue on to secondary school.

Under the pilot scholarship programme, girls who make it to the last year of primary school are eligible for US$45, which is disbursed to families as long as they continue at the secondary level.

The programme was estimated to have increased enrolment by 30 percent in areas where it was implemented, according to the report.
Sun Lei said government-led reform would be crucial to meeting the education MDG.

“If the government and other stakeholders invest more and continue to pay stronger attention, the MDG will be achievable,” she said.



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