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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - World Bank and ADB fund rural school expansion

World Bank and ADB fund rural school expansion

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About 93 percent of children attend primary schools and the MoEYS hopes to reach 100 percent by 2015.

About 700 school buildings will be built over the next four years with World Bank

(WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) funds to meet the needs of Cambodia's rapidly

growing school-age population.

Pok Than, secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS),

said the WB and ADB had finalized their proposals last month and construction is

scheduled to start in early 2006 and conclude in 2009. The WB plans to build 300

schools and the ADB 400. The school buildings will be designed to hold five classrooms.

The government will contribute 10 percent of the required funding.

In the first four months of 2006 approximately 100 schools will be built in remote

provinces, Than said.

He said the priority will be building lower secondary schools to teach students in

grades 7, 8, and 9. Many communes did not have lower secondary schools, and students

could not continue their education after they finished primary school.

About 93 percent of children attend primary schools and the MoEYS hopes to reach

100 percent by the year 2015, Than said.

"Our policy is to promote poor and ethnic minority students to study at least

to grade nine," Than said. "I hope that in the near future community education

will be improved."

In February 2005 the ADB signed a $45-million soft (low-interest) loan agreement

with the government for school construction. The ADB project is known as the Second

Education Sector Development Program, with $20 million going to the Ministry of Economy

and Finance for budget support and $25 million to the MoEYS for the investment project.

In May the WB approved its building plans in a new Education Sector Support Project

of $28 million of which $20 million is an International Development Association (IDA)

grant and the remaining $8 million an IDA credit.

The WB project will target the most disadvantaged children and will focus on girls,

ethnic minorities and communes with widespread poverty.

Mar Sophea, social sector officer at the ADB, said the project will start in the

first quarter of 2006 and is expected to finish by 2009. The ADB will also build

a total of 48 model schools, 24 will be constructed in remote districts.

"ADB will follow up to ensure the quality of school building," Sophea said.

He said during the past five years the education sector had seen improvements in

primary enrollment, with government budget allocation increased from 12 percent to

19 percent, though that was not yet enough to build competent human resources.

"More work needs to be done," he said. "We cannot compromise by concentrating

only on quantity enrollment and increased promotion, but we have to think about the

quality. It's time for us to look at the quality issue. We will investigate teacher

training, curriculum development, textbooks and school director management."

Than said the government had selected 5,000 teachers this year to meet the needs

of remote provinces. The government has also agreed to increase teachers' salaries

by 15 percent each year beginning in 2004. At present, primary teachers are paid

about 120,000 riel ($30) a month, lower secondary teachers 180,000 ($45), and upper

secondary teachers 220,000 ($55).

Sophea said that in order to strengthen the overall quality of education, curriculum

and textbooks must be revised and updated, and teacher and student materials must

be provided.

"The quality issue is a big challenge for the government, for students themselves

and their families - and donors," he said.

The ADB project includes the transfer of $7 million from the MoEYS to the Ministry

of Labor to fund community-based skills training programs for young people aged between

15 and 19 who have dropped out of school.

Sophea said these young people will not qualify for decent jobs if they don't have

any skills. The project will help them get practical experience in their communities

so that they can look for better employment or start their own businesses.

"Students dropping out of the school is not going to get worse, but it is a

big concern," he said.

Another two ADB projects being implemented between 2005 and 2007 will be funded by

the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction. One will provide scholarships for poor girls

and children in ethnic minority areas, the other will aim to improve primary school

access in disadvantaged communes. The two projects, which will be implemented in

rural provinces, will cost roughly $5 million.

According to a WB book published in May 2005, education indicators for ethnic minorities

and highland people in remote or mountainous areas are much lower than the national

average.

There are about 414 remote schools in Cambodia, with around 68,000 students and 1,000

certified government teachers. The net enrollment in remote schools is 76 percent,

compared with the national average of 93 percent. Literacy among ethnic minorities

and highland people is lower than among lowlanders.

Tim Sangvat, chief of the Mondulkiri education office, said his province needs at

least 15 new school buildings to meet the needs of the growing number of students,

and more teachers are needed. Officials from the MoEYS had visited, and building

would start in mid 2006.

Sangvat said about 35 percent of Mondulkiri students belong to ethnic minorities.

Most do not attend school regularly because they live in rural areas and spend a

large portion of time helping their families farm.

There are 7,999 schools with 3,433,048 students and 76,350 teachers in Cambodia.

This breaks down to 1,238 pre-schools, 6,063 primary schools, 486 lower secondary

schools and 212 upper secondary schools.

Fresh water and lack of toilets are a significant problem for Cambodian schools.

Approximately 52 percent of primary schools, 53 percent of lower secondary schools

and 21 percent of upper secondary schools are without water, and 41 percent of primary

schools, 36 percent of lower secondary schools and 7.5 percent of upper secondary

schools without toilets.

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