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Educational progress a 'suprise'

Educational progress a 'suprise'

A new report on education in the developing world has identified Cambodia’s progress in the sector as a “surprise”, as officials yesterday highlighted factors that continue to plague the country’s school system.

In a report set for release today, the United Kingdom-based Overseas Development Institute advised the government to address issues such as high dropout and grade repetition rates, lack of educational resources, prevalence of “informal fees” for students and the need for adequate salaries for teachers. Cambodia was labelled one of seven in the “surprises” category of progress, in addition to El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Laos, Rwanda and Somaliland – an autonomous region of Somalia.

“High levels of corruption and low institutional capacity constrain further progress in education. Dropout rates remain high, and low levels of education quality need to be addressed,” the report stated, adding that substantial reforms are needed for Cambodia to reach the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of achieving universal primary education and gender parity by 2015.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said yesterday that the Kingdom’s education system was even further from reaching these goals than the report claims.

“I do not believe that Cambodia will reach its MDGs for the education system by 2015 because until now its teaching system has not improved and its quality [of education] is still poor ... the dropout rate still remains very high,” he said. “They dropout and leave the school because of poverty and they cannot pay the informal fees for their studies.”

Buoy Bunna, an advisor to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, said yesterday that he was equally doubtful of meeting the MDGs, but added that progress was being made.

“I do not expect that Cambodia will reach its MDGs … but it can almost completely reduce the dropout rate in the country,” he said. Many students leave school early to work with their families, he said, which is difficult to contend with.

“The government is now working hard in providing free education for children as well as dropout students and building more schools closer to their villages or communities throughout the country,” he added.

Rong Chhun added that to reach the MDGs for education, the government must “completely combat all kinds of informal fees taken by teachers and school officials” and increase salaries for teachers, which he said should be 1 million riel (US$245) per month. Yet Buoy Bunna said that improvements were already being made to increase the quality of life for teachers, but declined to comment on informal fees.

“The government has also increased teachers’ salaries by 20 percent per year. From now until 2015, I think that high school teachers’ salaries will increase to $150,” he said.

CITA released a survey of 726 teachers last month. It revealed that 24 percent of teachers were concerned about low salaries, 17 percent about corruption in schools and 15 percent about a lack of study materials and teacher training.

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