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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Students Hope for End to Pay Offs

Students Hope for End to Pay Offs

Hopes are high among students and some teachers that the formation of a new government

will bring improvements to Cambodia's corruption-riddled education system.

"This year is the last year of corruption," said Oum Sinoun, a secondary

school teacher. "We are supposed to be role models for the students but instead

we have set a bad example for the future generation," she said.

Corruption has become rife in the national schooling system with parents of students

paying huge sums of money to have their children accepted into schools or colleges.

One student told the Phnom Penh Post that he gave U.S.$ 2,000 in order to be accepted

into the Law School at Phnom Penh University .

"It is not new, almost all the students had to do the same," he said. The

Law School received applications from more than 920 students last year although it

has places for only 150.

The bribes are given to members of the applications committee or to one of the examiners

by students fearing they will not score highly enough in the entrance examination.

Seng Sok Net, who spent two years in the faculty of medicine, estimated that nearly

70 percent of her classmates had paid their way into the school. They were also made

to pay fees of U.S. $15-20 per subject for each term. "If the student went to

the teacher after the results were released, they would have to pay double,"

she said.

The practice of paying "fees" to teachers has become so endemic that it

is now accepted by most parents who wish to send their children through school. According

to current black market rates, it costs from U.S. $25 to $40 to get a student a place

in primary school, $150 to $200 for secondary school and from $200 to $250 for high

school. The fees for admission to university depend upon the field of study, but

range from one to three domlung of gold.

Students have complained to the government but say their protests are ignored.

Education Minister Mom Chim Huy admitted the problem but said there was little the

government could do to remedy the situation.

"In every country there are problems but you have to understand this situation,"

he said.

At the root of the problem is the poor wages paid to the country's teachers. Teachers

complain that government salaries of between U.S. $20-$40 are not enough to live

on and that many have been forced to take second jobs to survive.

"Even though we do very hard work we still find it difficult to survive,"

said Sinoun. "But if the government hadn't helped us , we couldn't have helped

the pupils either," she said.

Sinoun said that she often became disheartened with her life as a teacher after being

forced to sell food at the school and then return home to teach private lessons .

The hardships faced by teachers, who were once held in esteem, had turned many capable

people away from the profession, she said.

Ann H. Dykstra, education project officer for UNICEF, said the current situation

was hurting the country.

"Some times the teacher charges the students but the students do not have the

money for the teacher, supplies and furniture. They hurt the students and the country,"

she said.

Observers say corruption has gradually been getting worse over the last 14 years,

as the former State of Cambodia administration ran out of money for its program to

rebuild the country's schooling system, which was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge

rule.

The result has been declining standards of students and teachers. According to UNICEF,

5.22 percent of primary school teachers did not complete primary school and only

0.87 percent graduated from upper secondary school.

In 1990, the government set up a board to combat corruption in the education system

but the agency has yet to achieve much success. Insiders said it was because the

controllers were corrupt as well.

Huy said that even though the government had made some mistakes regarding the education

system it was making good progress after the destruction wrought by the Khmer Rouge,

who killed much of the country's educated class. In 1979, the Ministry of Education

reopened 4,000 primary schools and 14 secondary schools. A year later the University

of Phnom Penh was re-opened and trained about 200 teachers for secondary and high

schools. At present, 82 percent of children are able go school. There are currently

1.6 million students of which 0.37 percent are attending university. By the year

2000, the Education Ministry expected 2.9 million children from the age of five to

14 or twice the present number, to go to school.

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