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Struggling to keep pace

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Students participate in a group activity at a Phnom Penh-area high school.

Cambodia spent a lower percentage of its GDP on education than any of its three neighbouring countries in 2011 and was ranked last among them in key related indicators, statistics from the latest United Nations Development Program Human Development Index show.

The Kingdom spent just 2.1 percent of GDP on education, less than half that of Vietnam, and only 58.1 percent of Cambodian’s school-aged children were enrolled in some form of education, the report stated.  

It also found that the number of men who had completed secondary school compared to women was just under double, at a ratio of 1 to 0.563 - last behind Lao at 0.622.

Tun Sar Im, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youths and Sports, yesterday denied education standards in Cambodia were worse than neighbouring countries.

“Our standard of education is acceptable. If our education sector is lower, how can they win contests with those from other [neighbouring] countries,” she said.

She conceded that female students in Cambodia often quit school as they get older for a variety of reasons including cultural reluctance amongst families to allow their daughters to go away to study, but added that sexual discrimination is not a factor.  

“Some parents think that daughters are better at housework than their sons are, so they give priority to the sons. Ladies often depend on their husband after getting married,” she said, adding that the government was trying to encourage female students with scholarships and dormitories.

In addition, Cambodia faired poorly in health indicators, recording the highest rate of mortality among children under five years of age and the second-lowest percentage of GDP expenditure on health – just 1.7 percent.

It recorded the second-highest rate of maternal mortality, though the figure of 290 deaths per 100,000 was perplexingly lower than the 461 per 100,000 claimed in the Cambodian government’s 2010 Demographic and Health Survey.

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua said the issues of health and education are inextricably linked.

“Investing in human resources is not just about education, it’s also about health care, so it should be both,” she said

“You can’t improve education until the teachers can make ends meet and the children can go to school with a full stomach.”

The government needs to raise its investment in education and health to at least 60 percent of the budget in order to curb “alarmingly high” drop-out rates, pay teachers properly and bring the Cambodian education sector up to the standards of competing countries, she added.

The yet-to-be-passed 2012 budget law allocates 16.73 percent of US$2.69 billion in total spending to the education and health ministries.

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