Sixty per cent of Cambodian children aged between three and five are not registered in any kind of formal education, a global Save the Children report released on Wednesday said.
Despite Cambodia making huge strides over the past 20 years to reduce the number of children not in school, those of primary and secondary school age not in the education system remains high – at 22.5 per cent – the organisation said on Tuesday.
Elizabeth Pearce, Save the Children in Cambodia’s country director, called on the government to increase funding for early childhood protection and development at the national and local levels.
“We ask the Cambodian government to increase resources and investment for the development of age-appropriate reading and play materials for children aged zero to six years, and especially to increase access to reading resources for young children in rural, remote and hard-to-reach areas,” Pearce said.
Save the Children released the third annual Global Childhood Report: Changing Lives in our Lifetime before Saturday’s International Children’s Day. Data in the report was collected from 176 countries, on a range of indicators related to childhood.
“Cambodia has much to celebrate with its score increasing 149 points, from 606 in 2000 to 755 in 2019."
“This is largely due to progress made in child survival, nutrition and school enrolment. But the percentage of out of school children of primary and secondary school age is still high at 22.5 per cent,” Save the Children said.
The report ranks each country on where childhood is most or least threatened, with Cambodia being placed 120th out of the 176 countries analysed.
Among regional neighbours, Singapore came out top in this year’s report, while Malaysia ranked 71st, Thailand 86th, Vietnam 95th, the Philippines 102nd and Indonesia 107th. China came in at number 36.
“We know there is much to celebrate in Cambodia as the situation for some children has improved, but some indicators, such as the low access to early childhood education, still remain a challenge."
“In the academic year 2018-19, only 40 per cent of three- to five-year-old children were accessing education. In 2017, only 0.3 per cent of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s budget was allocated to early childhood education."
“This is the smallest share of the ministry’s total recurrent budget when compared to other sub-sectors, such as primary education (3.6 per cent), secondary education (four per cent), and higher education (1.7 per cent)."
“Yet our research shows that childhood education is one of the best investments a country can make to prepare children to learn and help them succeed later in life,” Pearce said.
Ministry of Education spokesman Ros Soveacha told The Post on Wednesday that all state pre-schools received state budget packages, with the amount depending on the level of study.
Since 2018, he said the Ministry of Economy and Finance has supported the funding for standardised community kindergartens, providing salaries to teachers and budgets for the development of community pre-schooling.
“The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has increased the budget for standardised community-based kindergartens by nearly $2 million for 2019,” Soveacha said.
Huy Khy, Save the Children Cambodia’s senior policy advocacy adviser and spokesperson, told The Post that social services are less likely to be prioritised in commune development plans and investment programmes, and with minimal budget support.
An average of two to four per cent of the commune budget is allocated for social services, he said.
“We believe that the best time to prepare children for a bright future starts during pregnancy and early childhood. This is the most important stage to support their mental, physical, social and emotional development,” Khy said.
Soveacha said the Ministry of Education has been working with relevant development partners in providing all forms of early childhood education.
The ministry is planning an Education Strategic Plan 2019-2023, with early childhood education continuing to be one of its seven priorities.
“This strategic plan extends to the physical infrastructure and equipment for education at the pre-school level, with a focus on setting up kindergartens in primary schools and promoting the implementation of pre-school kindergarten standards as an annexe to public educational institutions. This means state pre-school,” Soveacha said.