Youth vocational training may be the key to curbing migration and combating poverty in Cambodia’s most vulnerable communities, according to child welfare NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), which is helping to roll out a technical skills program for high school dropouts.
On Friday, the Ministry of Labour officially signed on to nationwide guidelines for a one-year “skills bridging” curriculum – slated to be implemented by January – aimed at students who drop out before reaching upper secondary school.
These students will take rigorous but abbreviated courses in Khmer language, maths, chemistry and physics – coursework that prepares them to enter technical high schools, and ultimately vocational college.
Since 2010, more than 700 students in grades 8 and 9 have enrolled in a pilot version of the skills-bridging program with PSE, and as of 2015, the dropout rate was just 4 per cent.
This is in stark contrast to the overall youth demographic, who are the most at risk to abandon their studies.
In 2014, just 55 per cent of eligible students were enrolled in early secondary school (grade 7 through 9), and less than half of these students continued to upper secondary school, according to a report released in March by the Ministry of Education.
“For the development of Cambodia now, what [we] need are skilled workers,” Sarpich Pin, program director at PSE, said yesterday. “I really push this program.”
Vibol La, director of the PSE Institute, said that the high dropout rate around age 14 directly correlates to poverty and the ability of young teens to enter the workforce as cheap, untrained labourers in the garment and construction sectors.
The skills-bridging program hopes to catch these students and encourage them to return to school as a way to get better, higher-paying jobs, he said.
“Sometimes you have to choose: to live starving [or] to go somewhere with better food and jobs with no skill, no problem,” he said, attributing this as the impetus behind the 700,000 migrant Cambodians currently working in Thailand.
“When they come back with no skills, this will be the social burden of the next 10 years . . . Who will take them?” he asked.
“We can protect the children here by giving them more skills and making sure they don’t drop out of school.”
At PSE, and in the new nationwide guidelines, Vibol believes this can be achieved by focusing on motivation and teaching students to see education as a tool, not an impediment.
“[We] tell them that it is only a short period that may change their lives,” he said.
The bridge program is anticipated to roll out in approximately 30 schools throughout Cambodia by January.
The Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment.