A group of NGOs from the education sector yesterday urged the government to boost education spending to at least 20 percent of the country’s budget – a benchmark the Ministry of Education had hoped, and failed, to hit last year under its strategic plan.
Currently, education spending accounts for 18.3 percent of government spending, well short of the ministry’s goal of 23.1 percent for 2017, and its hoped-for budget for 2018 of 25 percent.
Although the ministry has seen budget increases in recent years, Cambodia’s investment in education remains lower than in neighbouring countries.
Chin Chanveasna, executive director for the NGO Education Partnership, said Cambodia’s current education spending only represents 2.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). By comparison, Vietnam spends 7 percent of its GDP on education.
“We want [spending of] at least 20 percent” of the national budget, he said. Since 2014, the ministry’s budget has increased year-on-year. This year’s allocation is $600 million, up from 2014’s $335 million, or around 16 percent of total spending, according to ministry spokesman Ros Salin.
“It’s a remarkable growth,” he said, without answering questions regarding why those figures still fall below the projected budgets in the ministry’s strategic plan.
Salin maintained that Cambodia’s spending on education is higher than that of other countries with a similar GDP, such as Cameroon, which in 2014 spent less than 14 percent of its national budget on education.
Son Chhay, a Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker, accused rich government officials of neglecting public education because they send their children to study abroad.
“When they try to think from [the perspective] of the majority of the people, maybe they would understand,” he said. Chhay said money that could be funnelled to education is instead going to other, more frivolous areas.
“I think [the government] seems to take less interest [in education],” he said. “The government has to be more serious and provide a more responsible budget.”
According to Chanveasna, 4 out of every 5 dollars of the ministry’s budget goes towards salaries, with the remainder spread among some 20,000 schools.
Chin Sam Oeun, education officer at ActionAid Cambodia, said his organisation sees firsthand the budget constraints faced by schools.“They don’t have enough . . . [to] achieve what they want,” he said.
Chanveasna said education spending from the government should be considered as an “investment” rather than“expenditure”.
“When you invest in the education sector, the return will be greater,” he said.