Approximately 3 million students in 12,000 state schools across the country are at risk of drop-out or under-performance as a result of inadequate basic infrastructure, according to research by a coalition of civil society groups.
The warnings came following a forum convened in the capital on Saturday by organisations including the Accountability Alliance of Cambodia, the Khmer Institute for National Development (KIND) and COMFREL to discuss youth participation in improving education.
Kao Poeun, executive director of KIND, said yesterday that schools in Phnom Penh and the provinces are facing major shortages in facilities such as fans, toilets, water and electricity – potentially compelling students from kindergarten through to high school to drop out or transfer to private schools.
“If state schools have no infrastructure, the public will lose confidence in the quality of the system,” he said. “The whole education field will be critically affected if the government doesn’t pay attention to reforming it.”
Poeun maintained that the Ministry of Education must increase the pool of funds available to schools to avoid escalating drop-out rates and poor student performance, adding that civil society organisations plan to officially report their concerns to the Ministry of Education in early 2016.
Knorng Kropeu, the deputy principal of a primary school in Tbong Khmum province, noted that his institution’s infrastructure has improved since it received electricity and water sponsorship from a local company. However, he added that this was still not enough to meet demand.
“Our school does have fans for students; those fans were sponsored by well-off people and some teachers also helped to repair them,” he said, calling for a boost in annual funding from the ministry. “We use the existing state fund to buy technical materials and for administration,” he explained.
According to Ros Salin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, inspecting and renovating infrastructure in high schools, particularly those preparing for final exams, will be prioritised in 2016.
“We will inspect the infrastructure and fix any problems immediately,” he said. “The next step will be to select schools that serve as examination centres where we will connect electricity, install more lamps and increase the number of toilets.”
Salin explained that funds from the ministry increase annually and are allocated to institutions according to enrolment, at a rate of $3 per student. He added that schools with between 2,000 to 3,000 students receive an addition 2 million riel (about $500), including some funds from development partners dedicated to renovating Cambodian schools.