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Parents spending heaps on 'free' public education

Parents spending heaps on 'free' public education

Cambodian families are being forced to pay a hefty portion of their monthly income

in under-the-table tuition fees to public school teachers to ensure their children

aren't ignored and don't fail in school, according to a report released October 5

by NGO Education Partnership (NEP).

The study on informal school fees involved 210 families with children in grades 1-9

in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Kampot and Takeo provinces.

According to the study, the average total unofficial cost of sending one child to

school was $108.20 per year, or 8.7% of annual income of families, which had an average

of 3.6 children each.

Given these numbers, an average sized family with all its children in school would

need to spend more than a third of its annual income on education.

The average annual cost per student in each of the four main categories of informal

school fees was: $47.80 for Daily Costs; $37.00 for School Fees, $19.00 for Start-up

Costs; and $4.50 for Additional Costs.

Payments increase as children grow up, forcing many students to drop-out after elementary

school, the report said. The report showed that in Takeo Province the cost of sending

only one child to grades 7-9 represented 23.7% of total family annual income, and

families average four children.

In Phnom Penh, parents told the Post the subject of tuition fees in public schools

was all too familiar to them. Sinai Suy, 35, selling lottery tickets along the railway

in Toul Kork district, Phnom Penh, said that when she took her son to Sonthormock

School at the beginning of the academic year, the teacher explained that the daily

costs of school were 300 riel for formal class 7-11am, 500 riel for extra-class 11-12

am, and $10 per month for a special extra class.

"The teachers would not force students to attend the extra class, but if we

decide not to pay, our children will learn nothing from the formal class and fail

their examinations," she said.

The NEP report recommended raising teacher salaries to a level that provides fair

compensation for their profession, and that is comparable with other salaries for

teachers in the Asia South Pacific Region. It also called for improved budget monitoring

system to ensure that teachers are paid on time.

Staggering drop-out rates will persist as long as teachers are forced to charge informal

school fees.

"We want the government to keep their promises on informal school fees. They've

committed to Education for All by 2015, but this can't happen if we still have informal

school fees," said Mr. Seng Hong, Exuecitve Director of NEP.

Beyond imposing high taxes on parents, informal school fees condition children to

dishonesty and corruption, said the report, which cited the case of a student in

Prey Chhor District, Phnom Penh who was sent by his teacher to purchase snacks from

the market and sell them at school.

"There is no need for my son to study," the mother complained. "When

he is taking exams, he always gets high scores. My son is always first in the class,

but he learns nothing."

The report fell short of blaming the teachers, saying they earn "less pay than

a garment worker" with salaries of "$30 and $40 and many have to wait for

salaries that arrive late, if at all."

The report said that despite the unfairness of the fees, parents and students did

not say they felt cheated by teachers, but instead pointed the blame on the government

for claming to provide free public education.

The system of informal school fees began in the post Khmer Rouge period. Two decades

later, the practice is firmly entrenched and parents regard the fees as normal.