Education & the income gap

Education & the income gap

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A young girl collects rubbish from a trash field in Siem Reap province. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

I only have fate to blame,” said Som Sopheaktra, a young factory worker in an iron workshop. “If I had money and a family like other people, I would have tried to study hard and find a good job without letting myself fall into this kind of difficulty.”

Sopheaktra was orphaned at an early age and was adopted by his grandmother.

But he dropped out of school at the tender age of 10-years-old, and began working to sustain himself. He had no choice but to do this because his grandmother had passed away, and meanwhile, Sopheaktra faced starvation and death.

“In the future, no matter how hard it is, I’ll work hard so that my children can get a good education,” Sopheaktra said. “I don’t want them to live like I had to.”

Sokhorn, a garbage collector who works on a small block of Phnom Penh, is only 10-years-old.

“I try so hard to do my work every day,” he said. “I just wish I had been born to a better family, so I could go to school like normal children,” he said.

Sopheaktra and Sokhorn aren’t the only ones who’ve lost their opportunity to study because of the country’s poverty plague, as many other young Cambodians continue to drop out of school without hesitation in order to work for their own survival.

But what’s happening on the opposite side of society’s social spectrum?

Increasingly, many middle- and high-class Cambodians are taking their studies for granted, using their money to entertain themselves at the city’s venues and skipping class.

“I don’t have to care much about my studies because I’m still young,” said 18-year-old Vorleak, a student at Preah Sisowath High School. “With my family’s [financial] condition, I’ll have more opportunities to grab in the future.”

“Plus, I’m a teenager now and I want to fill this time with happy memories, not complexity,” he added.

Poun Sareoun, a school director at IntraTevy High School, recognised that many of the school’s students are skipping class to spend their time entertaining themselves.

“We know that they like things that make them feel happy and excited, and it’s reflected in their environment and what kind of friends they have,” he said.

He added that there are frequent absences and some students are failing to complete their study sessions.

Sim Hak, a former school director at Samaki High School, said that one’s financial standing does not determine how useful they will be to society. Instead, it depends on the individual.

“Some students from poor family backgrounds who have support can succeed in school,” he said.

LA Vibol, who works for Pour un Sourire d’enfant (PSE), said that students at the organisation are split between those who wish to succeed through study and those who are apathetic towards it.

“If we know that some children are careless and skipping their classes often, we might send them to the Department of Education or find them a proper job,” Vibol said.

For this week’s Constructive Cambodian, IntraTevy’s Poun Sareoun weighs in for advice.

“Parents’ participation and attention towards their children is important in encouraging their children to study hard, so parents should focus not only on their work, but also on their children,” he said.

“Parents, along with schools, can determine the future of young Cambodians.”

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