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Education funding push on

Students in grades one to four attend class at a rural school in Battambang province
Students in grades one to four attend class at a rural school in Battambang province despite a shortage of teaching staff. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Education funding push on

A continued lack of teachers in rural areas and a steep increase in high school dropout rates are serving as exhibits A and B as Ministry of Education officials make their case for a bigger chunk of the 2016-2018 national budget.

During a seminar on education development yesterday in the capital, Education Ministry Secretary of State Nath Bunroeun outlined 15 priorities for education, ranging from teacher training centres, to upgrading teaching qualifications, to revised curriculums.

But the shortage of teachers in the provinces and rising dropout rates are the two most urgent issues demanding government attention, he said.

In urban areas, a teacher is usually responsible for a class of 32 students, while in rural and remote areas, class sizes routinely increase to 44 students or more, according to a 2014 World Bank report.

While the dropout rate in lower secondary schools remained at 21 per cent between 2013 and 2014, dropouts in upper secondary schools (encompassing grades 10-12) nearly doubled, shooting from 14 per cent to 27.5 per cent, according to the ministry’s annual education congress report.

“If we let this continue, we cannot improve the quality of education. So in order to do this, we must deploy qualified teachers to remote areas and improve the quality of teachers,” he said.

Finance Ministry secretary of state Vongsei Visoth, on hand for the seminar, said they are already discussing how best to respond to the issues.

“We will strive to increase the budget for the Education Ministry, mainly for its most vital activities like the deployment of additional teachers and wage increases,” Visoth said.

The ministry currently has a $400 million budget for 2015 and that will be increased in the coming years, he added.

UNICEF Cambodia representative Erika Boak yesterday echoed the call for increased spending on education, calling for relevant institutions to increase salaries, develop better teacher qualification programs, create more scholarships for teachers and poor students, and educate students, particularly younger ones, about proper nutrition, health and hygiene.

NGO Education Partnership director Chin Chanveasna agreed, saying the “quality of education in Cambodia has to get better. And for these improvements to happen, it’s vital that we focus on improving the quality and availability of teachers.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SARAH TAGUIAM

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