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Nation set to reduce targets for education

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Students study at Toun Fha primary school near Kandal Market. A draft of the government’s forthcoming National Strategic Development Plan includes revised education targets.

CAMBODIA is set to slash education targets under its new development plan, abandoning benchmarks that education specialists have described as “completely unrealistic”.

According to a draft of the country’s National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) update for 2009-13, a copy of which was obtained by the Post Monday, a wide range of education targets would be cut considerably, thereby lessening the country’s chances of fulfilling its education-related Millennium Development Goal (MDG).

The NSDP for 2006-10 aimed at achieving universal enrolment at both the primary and lower secondary levels by 2015, a goal that was in line with the MDG benchmarks. The new plan, however, would lower the target for lower secondary enrolment from 75 percent by 2010 to just 51 percent by the 2013-14 school year.

In The, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, said that in previous plans, figures had been drawn from national directives, but that the new figures reflect more detailed analysis conducted by the ministry itself.

“In previous planning, we did not make specific analysis,” he said. “In the draft we have made a clear and fair analysis based on the current situation and adjusted the ministry’s targets and its implementation goals.”

The goal of 50 percent enrolment in rural areas by 2010 would likewise be reduced to 42 percent by 2013-14, while the same goal in “remote” areas – for which the 2006-10 document set a target of 50 percent by 2010 – would be set at 22 percent for 2013-14. Completion rates for lower secondary school would also be reduced from 76 percent by 2010 to 59 percent by 2013-14, and the target literacy rate for those aged between 15 and 24 would be dropped from 95 percent by 2010 to 92 percent by 2013-14.

Education specialists applauded the adjustments, saying they were a clear improvement over the wildly optimistic MDG targets contained in the 2006-10 plan.

“The way [the targets] were set was completely unrealistic,” said Sherif Rushdy, a consultant who conducted an assessment of the MDG benchmarks for the UN Development Programme last year.

“If the goal is not achievable, there’s not much incentive to achieve it.”

Rushdy said that many of the MDG targets for education, set by the government in 2003, were not backed up by enough analysis to determine whether they were feasible.

“You can’t achieve 100 percent primary enrolment and 100 percent secondary enrolment in the same time frame. And there was no projection made of what it actually takes to get there,” he said, adding that it was “reasonable to adjust the figures to something that’s more realistic”.

In Samrithy, executive director of NGO Education Partnership, agreed.

“In the previous [plan], it seems the government tried to play up the numbers to show they were trying to reach the goal as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that the inflated goals were “beyond the government’s capacity”.

Short on time
As the deadline for public consultations on the NSDP draft closed on Monday, civil society groups criticised the government for the length and timing of the consultative period, saying they were not given enough of a chance to make submissions about the 200-page document.

The NSDP draft was originally released to NGOs on December 17 for perusal, but the three-week period for making formal submissions about the contents of the draft was too short, Chith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said on Monday.

“NGOs realise the importance of the NSDP update,” he said, but added that the consultative period was “clearly too short to have a proper consultative process”.

“The consultative process excluded many civil society organisations from taking part,” he said.

Others questioned the timing of the consultation period, which was disrupted by the Christmas and New Year holidays. “Given the holiday period and everything, it was just not sufficient for NGOs and donors to make their submissions,” said Lun Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.

“It’s an important document that will be a road map for the government between now and 2013, so it’s important that broad consultation is conducted.”

But Theng Pagnathun, deputy director general at the Ministry of Planning, which has been responsible for formulating the NSDP draft, said the concerns came only from a small number of civil society groups.

“Only some NGOs have complained that we did not give them enough time, but I think that they weren’t working at that time. Maybe they were on holiday,” he said.

He added that government institutions and their “main development partners” had made no complaints about the timing of the consultation period.

“We were aware about [NGO] concerns on this issue, but we work based on a majority of voices,” he said. “The government will not postpone its deadline.”

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