Tardiness is usually discouraged within school settings, but this year, the Education Ministry is endorsing a month-long delay for the whole academic year.
Public schools, which typically start in the beginning of October, will this year commence classes on November 3, with studies continuing until the school break in August.
“We did this for two reasons: one, the national exam redo in October, and then also because of flooding,” said Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron. “Chronic flooding, especially in the Tonle Sap Lake area, meant that if we began in October, not all schools could start classes at the same time.”
Sceptics argued that the delay was instituted solely for the benefit of the grade 12 national exam sitters, and thus privileged less than 2 per cent of the nation’s three million students.
“This big change is for the few students who did not pass the national exam in August and needed a retest, compared to all the rest of the students who will now be affected,” said San Chey, coordinator for accountability NGO ANSA-EAP.
The Education Ministry, however, said that while this year was “an exceptional case”, the change may become standard practice if the new calendar goes well.
Last year, severe flooding prevented more than 500 schools from starting on time. This year, though the flooding was less dramatic – affecting an estimated 300 schools – a small handful may still be barred from opening on schedule.
“We don’t have any schools destroyed by the floods this year.… Most of the schools that were affected were nearby the river, and the water brought a lot of mud into the classrooms,” said Svay Phally, director of Kampong Cham’s Education Department, who estimated that 90 per cent of the province’s schools could start as planned, with another 10 per cent still requiring a de-mucking.
Phally’s education department also joins Koh Kong and Battambang with outstanding repair requests – including for broken roofs – from the flooding last year, an issue the ministry said it is “working on”.