The UN's millennium goal of ‘education for all' by 2015 looks set to
fail, prompting education specialists to urge the government to
restructure policies around more realistic standards
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
CITA President Rong Chhun at a protest over the government’s handling of the Preah Vihear dispute earlier this year.
MillenNium goal could fade next to grim reality
A recent monitoring report sponsored by Unesco claimed progress towards the education for all goals was being undermined by a failure of governments to tackle broader inequalities based on income, gender, location, ethnicity, language, disability and other markers of disadvantage. The report also noted dire circumstances in the East Asia region. According to the most recent statistics, 51 percent of out-of-school children in the region were boys, although in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Macau (China) and East Timor, the majority of “missing” school children were girls. The report added that the possibility that out-of-school children might eventually attend school was also gender-skewed in the region, with 88 percent of boys expected to enroll late, compared with 67 percent of girls. According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, there are about 8,000 schools in the Kingdom with 3.4 million students. But a survey released by Save the Children Norway in December 2007 found that as few as 138 out of 1,000 students who enrolled in the first grade would go on to complete primary school in Cambodia.
AS SCHOOL dropout rates continue to rise amid reports that the United Nations' millennium development goal of "education for all" by 2015 is impossible, education specialists are urging the government to take a more realistic approach to the Kingdom's ailing school system.
"The objective of education for all, which is a mechanism for promoting the completion of primary school education for all children in the world by the year 2015, will not be successful in Cambodia," Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, told the Post Monday.
He said the government's pre-election promise to promote informal education - known throughout the country as "The people who know more teach the people who know less" - to help achieve the millennium development goal of education for everyone has failed to correctly identify the root cause behind low pupil turnout and high dropout rates.
"We know the reason for this failure in Cambodia. It is the poor implementation [of education policy] by the government, which makes children's dropout rates increase year to year," he said.
Rong Chhun said the government needed to take a more pragmatic approach to education funding rather than using the loftiness of the informal system as an excuse to avoid change.
"The Cambodian government should work on policies to reduce the dropout rate of Cambodian children by building more schools, fulfilling the demands of teachers [and raising salaries], supplying learning materials to children and reducing poverty," he said.
"The informal education system that the government has created has gone through no change. It is just a promotion to make the government look good. [Implementation] at the moment is nothing different from what has already been practiced," he said.
A Unesco global monitoring report released earlier this month warned that the UN's millennium objective was likely to fail in developing countries.
The report re-estimated that by 2015 up to 29 million children in the world would still not have the chance to go to primary school.
The objective of education for all ... will not be successfull in cambodia.
We'll meet goal: Govt
Chey Chab, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, said that it was pessimistic for groups to dismiss the goal set by governments.
"The UN and other NGOs have the right to evaluate education in the world," he said. "But I would like to say that no matter how many reports by NGOs evaluating education in the world saying that we cannot succeed with this goal by 2015, the government will still promote this policy."
Chey Chab reaffirmed the government's use of informal education and questioned the ethics of those criticising it.
"Before responding to the statement that the government creates the informal education in order just to look good, we want to ask them, what is their attitude towards the government? We try to improve things, but they try to hinder the implementation of our policies," he said.
"We believe that what the government has done about informal and formal education policies since 2001 has been positively contributing to education up to now. So, although Cambodia is not 100 percent successful in the education sector, it reaches near success," he added.
Situation remains dire
Kong Santhara, program manager of local NGO School for Life of Education Support, said that the situation on the ground continued to look dire.
"Since 2005, we have conducted research into education in three of Cambodia's provinces: Kampong Cham, Kratie and Ratanakkiri. The result of the research shows that the dropout rate of children is still high when they reach the labor force age," she said.
According to the research, about five percent of children in the three provinces had dropped out of primary school, and there were only 150 schools and 14 junior high schools in the three provinces.
"We also found that eight percent of children do not go to school and are not educated at all because they are orphans, minority groups or very poor," she said, adding that a lack of teachers was the biggest problem.
"For the three years that we have conducted research, there have never been enough teachers in some areas of the countryside," he said.