Four civil society organizations issued a joint press release on July 13 calling on the government, donors and relevant partners to increase their level of response to the loss of study time experienced by Cambodian students due to the school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education spokesperson, however, said that the ministry had already introduced a seven-point plan to respond to this crisis.

The four organizations - World Vision, Kampuchea Action to Promote Education (KAPE), NGO Education Partnership (NEP) and CARE Cambodia also held a workshop on July 14 about “addressing loss of studies through additional training in Cambodia” to encourage all relevant partners to respond to this aspect of the Covid-19 crisis in Cambodia.

Their press release said that over the two years of the pandemic the government had shut down in-person schooling and operated remotely in Cambodia for longer than any other country in the region, adding up to more than half of each of two academic school years in 2020-2021.

“At that time, there were activities supporting students to help them to continue their studies during the closures, but they still faced challenges. Distance learning proved less effective, leading to gaps in studies at all levels.

"Similarly to Thailand, Cambodia is facing a crisis of children missing out on large portions of their studies. It will continue affecting students’ lives and the development of the nation in the future if no solution is found,” press release said.

Var Sorin, World Vision's education programme manager, said that this new challenge must be addressed now.

“We've identified the problem of gaps in the children’s studies. But through the implementation of pilot training projects in some communities we've seen that children are able to catch-up with their studies to get back to where they were before the schools were closed.

"To support the students, we need to mobilise them and we need the participation of all relevant partners, especially the Ministry of Education, development partners and civil society organizations,” he said.

After the schools were reopened late in 2019, the government undertook several measures to support the training of children and address the gaps in their studies by developing a condensed curriculum for students in grades 2-6.

However, the CSOs said that the implementation of these measures still faced many challenges, including limited resources at schools in remote areas and teachers’ capacities to adapt to the new material.

Phan Bunnat, coordinator at KAPE, said that over half of Cambodian children have not yet caught up with the curriculum to reach the point in their studies they should be at normally.

“We must have an emergency coordinated response to the schools’ needs for more training. Not only to respond to the Covid-19 school closures over the long term, but also we must create support for more training until the situation returns to normal,” he said.

Vera Ushurova, coordinator at NEP, recommended that the education ministry continue to push for operations at schools and implement digital education reforms and improvements.

“However, we must not forget poor and needy students and we must ensure that we introduce measures to reduce drop-out rates, especially in remote and poor areas. And we must consider incorporating knowledge of technology in our annual student and teacher assessments and strengthen the capacities of teachers and school management to solve this study crisis,” she said.

Education ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said on July 13 that the ministry had already introduced a seven-point plan to respond to the crisis which acknowledged that the pandemic had disrupted the education sector in Cambodia involving some 3.2 million students.

“We introduced this plan to solve the problem of the loss of studies and increase the results of studies at the primary level. Schools can use and choose one possible action or more in-line with the practical situation, context, financial resources, resources of teachers and material resources of the schools themselves to achieve a post-pandemic studies recovery,” he said.