A successful pilot scholarship program, which has enabled underprivileged girls in
Kampong Cham province to attend one of 13 lower-secondary schools, is under threat
because of a drastic cut in funding.
And although the government plans to launch a similar nationwide program in September
as part of its Education For All scheme, critics are eyeing it with skepticism. They
fear that girls in the current scheme will lose out.
"Education is very important to me," said Chun Li Da, a 17-year-old scholarship
student at Prey Toteung Junior High School. "My parents expect that when I grow
up with this good education, I will be able to get a good job to help my family."
Under the scheme, about 1,100 girls aged between twelve and 18 have been able to
attend grades seven to nine in provincial schools. The scholarship program manager,
Ma Chan Sopheap, said the success rate was currently 90 percent, with 450 more girls
due to start in September 2003. Over 1,000 applications were received.
The annual cost per student is about $80 for a basic scholarship and $230 for a room
and board scholarship. Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE), a local NGO,
helped to raise funds and form education strategies.
A large part of the funding over the past three years has come from USAID. But KAPE's
senior technical advisor, Kurt Bredenberg, said that was likely to be discontinued-he
believed USAID would be unlikely to continue funding this program once the new government
program was in place. Another concern is that the program could lose its funding
if the US carries out its threat to withdraw support if the July election is not
deemed free and fair.
Under the new national scholarship program, families will get $49 in cash per student.
That, said Bredenberg, was a change in distribution. The current scheme is funded
by "payments in kind", including a bicycle, uniform, tutoring fees and
He said it would be natural for the cash to be absorbed by the family instead of
being spent on their daughter's education.
"There are a lot of problems with money in our government," he said of
other concerns. "It leaks. It always leaks and if it doesn't, it doesn't get
to the schools on time."
Another change is that the government initiative will be available to boys and girls.
Bredenberg said the scholarship program was originally set up as "girls are
much worse off". He fears that girls will be sidelined again if parents give
priority to educating their sons under the national scheme.
Sot Sim, director of Prey Toteung Junior High, said the scholarships had allowed
the girls to develop their potential, despite their ongoing struggle with poverty.
Sim stressed the program was honoring Article 68 in the Constitution, which states
that everyone should have a basic education-Grades One to Nine.
"The scholarship is very important for these girls when their parents [suffer]
such poverty," said Sim. "Previously they had no chance to go on to lower-secondary
school. The scholarships benefit the girls who have never before had any opportunities."
Teacher Chin Phannee said the students had become more self-confident and ambitious.
Sopheap, the scholarship manager, noted that one of the biggest challenges of the
program was showing parents the importance of their daughter's education.
"At first, parents aren't really clear about what the goal is. They focus on
the material [aspects] like the bicycle and the uniform," she said. "Eventually
we count on parents to encourage their daughter's education."
The program also makes use of female role models to show the benefits of educating
girls: there are two women on Prey Toteung's six-strong monitoring committee. It
measures the scheme's success by meeting parents, examining dropout rates, and talking
regularly with the students.
Horn Sokheoun, 34, the mother of 18-year-old student Horn Sokha, harvests fruit from
sugar palm trees for a living. She wants a different life for Sokha and is willing
to make sacrifices.
"I am very thankful for the scholarship," she said. "We're willing
to struggle to keep Sokha in school. It's very difficult for us-my husband is sick-but
Sokha's education is very important. My education is very poor and I'd like my daughter
to have a better education than me."