The facilities at O’Chrey Primary School in Battambang province are allegedly so basic that it’s difficult to conceive of it as an actual school.
The 219 grade one to four students get their lessons crowded in a wall-less storage hut at the edge of a cornfield, according to the principal.
There’s no electricity, no toilets, no floor and, soon, no teachers willing to put up with the conditions.
The two contract teachers ran out of patience with the setup and left.
“They were hired to teach on just a 140,000 riel ($34) per month salary. It’s not enough to live so they quit,” said O’Chrey’s principal, Pot Saroeun.
It’s not for lack of advocacy. With the nearest primary school more than 5 kilometres away, the residents of Baraing Thleak village in Phnom Prek district established their own school in 2006, Saroeun said.
In 2012, they petitioned for and received recognition from the state, hoping to receive funding, teachers and a real brick-and-mortar schoolhouse, but to no avail.
“We lack everything, including tables, chalk, chalkboards and especially a complete building that we can call a real school. I have sent many requests [to the Ministry of Education], but they are still unanswered,” Saroeun said.
The school receives $250 annually to cover all expenses, including salaries, but the district education department estimated it would take close to $60,000 to put up a building.
O’Chrey isn’t the Kingdom’s only school in such dire straits; two nearby schools are in similar shape, though at least they have walls, the district education office said.
In Sangke district, two schools have waited several years for repairs to a foundation so cracked and unsteady that students aren’t allowed inside when it’s windy or raining, according to the Puthi Komar Organization.
“The ministry is responsible . . . for providing a quality education that is equal access for all, but it is not equal access if some students are not able to study when it rains,” said Lim Sophea, PKO’s director.
The Education Ministry did not return requests for comment. Official figures show 630 schools, about 3 per cent of the total, had repaired last year.