F OR years the Cambodian education system has operated on the premise: "Those who
know more teach those who know less; those who know less teach those who know
It's a simple theory which sums up the piecemeal nature of
education in Cambodia and its basic problems - a lack of teachers, training and
Cambodia is still recovering from the loss of teachers, professors
and "intellectuals" targeted for execution in the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79
Today, many teachers know little more than their
According to Minister of Education Tol Lah, 40-50 percent of
primary school teachers never finished secondary school, and about five percent
never completed primary school.
As well as poorly-trained teachers, the
education system suffers similar deficiencies in its buildings, textbooks and
The Ministry of Education estimates that 20 percent of
Cambodia's schools need rebuilding, and at least half need
Some schools, particularly in remote areas, are no more than
shacks or dilapidated old buildings.
"Nobody is happy to teach or to
learn in a school with no roof, no walls or no chairs," says Anne Dykstra,
education manager of UNICEF.
"What would you think if you were sitting
under the heat of the sun or in the rain?"
Some schools have no
electricity or water supplies, let alone libraries or laboratories. Even simple
materials such as textbooks are rare in more remote parts of Cambodia, Dykstra
Even better-equipped schools, such as those in Phnom Penh, have
problems. Classes are frequently over-crowded, with 80 to 90 students where
there should be only 35.
Because of the pressures they work under - and
all for low wages - some teachers are simply unwilling to teach their
Dykstra says some teachers take second jobs or teach private
classes, where the standard of their teaching is better than in their regular
Cambodia faces a massive task in rebuilding Cambodia's education
system, and one in which money is a basic obstacle.
Much of the progress
to date - such as the rehabilitation of about 3000 classrooms and construction
of 1000 new ones - has been funded by foreign donors.
As for the
government, only eight percent of Cambodia's national budget goes toward
education - compared to around 23 percent before the 1970s - according to Tol
He says he has asked the government to pay the Ministry of Education
20,000 riels a month per teacher for teacher-training programs, but there has
not yet been a response.
In December, the ministry hosted an Education
Donor Roundtable conference to appeal for money to fund a $200 million education
So far, some $96 million, including $20 million in loans,
has been pledged by donor countries and international organizations.
says more money is needed, but Cambodia has to begin working with what it has so
The ministry has launched an ambitious five-year reform program -
the first major shake-up of the education system since the KR virtually
abolished it in 1975.
The three key aims are to improve the quality of
education, access to education, and educational planning and
Among individual targets are to:
- Increase the number of years students spend at primary school from five to
six, starting next year
- Increase primary school students' schools hours to 900 per year by 1999,
from 600 hours currently
- Build 4,500 new classrooms by the year 2000, and reserve positions for
360,000 new students each year
- Publish 15 million copies of textbooks for all school levels by 1998
- Introduce a new curriculum, and a new national examination system
Sou Muy Kieng, a member of the ministry's reform committee, says the program
is supported by the European Union, UNICEF and UNESCO.
The EU has
launched a $16 million program to help the primary education system, including
teacher training, supplying school materials and upgrading data
Hour Serey, a ministry consultant to the EU's education program,
says about 3000 primary teachers will be given training to help them qualify as
The training is being given by correspondence.
Since last month, the EU has been giving study books to teachers around
For those who successfully complete the study, the EU will
subsidize their wages by $6 per month, and $12 for those living in six more
The EU will also train about 650 teacher-trainers,
administrators and principals.
Meanwhile, the government last month
announced the introduction of new subjects, such as safety, hygiene, arts,
civics and social sciences, to the primary school curriculum.
Kieng says he expects most existing subjects to be changed as well, but
particularly mathematics, Khmer literature and history.
One of the
ministry's first moves has been to distribute a photocopied temporary history
textbook, replacing an earlier one produced under the former communist regime in
the early 1980s.
Muy Kieng says the previous textbook referred to King
Norodom Sihanouk in a way which was "not appropriate". Supote Prasertsri,
Education Program Specialist of UNESCO, says much of the current school
curriculum was copied from Vietnam.
History textbooks, for instance, are
very positive toward Vietnam and the former State of Cambodia regime.
have to teach the students the negatives and positives of all regimes... the
reality of the country," he says.
Prasertsri, who recently conducted a
survey of the education system, says most students have poor understanding of
economics and business.
He believes introducing more business-related
subjects is a priority, so graduating students can start their own business
rather than rely on the government for jobs.
The ministry has been
looking at curriculums in other countries, and experts from Switzerland,
Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have been to Cambodia to help work on a
Anne Dykstra, of UNICEF, said improving the quality of
textbooks, and ensuring free access to them, is vital.
that the teachers have them, to be able to prepare lessons, and that the
students have them so they can learn by themselves even if they do not attend
"We should provide free textbooks to all levels of students
and teachers," she said.
UNICEF has been funding the printing of about
2-2.5 million textbooks a year since 1992, as well as its other programs to
train primary teachers and repair and build schools.
creating a solid education system is a huge job which will take 20 to 30 years,
but "we have to go step by step".