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Progress, hurdles for education

High school students search notice boards with exam results
High school students search notice boards with exam results last year in Phnom Penh. A recent report on education in Cambodia by Unesco points out that Cambodia successfully started that overhaul of high school exams last school year. Heng Chivoan

Progress, hurdles for education

Despite the fact that Cambodia is slated to reach the six internationally agreed-upon education goals set by Unesco for 2015, the Kingdom’s education system continues to face systemic problems, according to the Ministry of Education’s annual report.

The report’s final draft, which was released to the ministry’s annual education congress on March 24 to 26 and obtained yesterday, noted largely incremental improvements that education officials say will enable the country to reach the Education for All (EFA) goals set by Unesco in 2000. However, observers were quick to point out that without increased budgets and shifts in cultural attitudes toward schooling, longstanding problems like high dropout rates will continue to persist.

The largest leap forward for the Kingdom’s schools came in the form of last year’s reformed grade 12 examinations, said Unesco education specialist Santtosh Khapri. Formerly notorious for being rife with corruption, the testing process was subjected to stringently enforced anti-cheating measures that caused the 2014 pass rate to plummet to just under 26 per cent, from 84 per cent the year before.

An emergency second round of exams saw just another 17.9 per cent pass.

“The examination administered last year has significantly shifted the discourse in terms of learning and . . . is starting to give students a new focus in completing their course work, because now, there are no more shortcuts,” Khapri said. “And this is going to create a ripple effect in the system.”

Unesco’s EFA goals also include developing comprehensive early childhood care and education, ensuring that all children have access to quality primary education and reaching a 50 per cent improvement in adult literacy, which stood at 63.7 per cent in 2000.

Last school year, the number of five-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education programs increased from 56.5 per cent in 2012-13 to 59.9 per cent, while primary school enrolment rose from 97 per cent to 98 per cent.

The launch of a new national literacy campaign in early March will help Cambodia make another 92,125 adults literate and reach the EFA rate of 84.4 per cent by the end of the year, Khapri said.
Despite the gradual improvements, however, the system is still plagued by significant shortcomings.

While 61 per cent of children complete all levels of early childhood education, only 55 per cent will move on to lower secondary schools. Further, only 40 per cent of students complete lower secondary education, and only 25 per cent go on to upper secondary school.

“[Rural villagers] think earning money is an urgent thing, so they don’t think to encourage their kids to study,” CNRP lawmaker and National Assembly education commission head Yem Ponhearith said yesterday, adding that many families are also deterred by the distance of schools from their homes. “The government should address this problem more.”

Although Cambodia allocated $453 million for the education sector in 2015, up 26 per cent from 2014, NGO Education Partnership (NEP) executive director Chin Chanveasna said that more money should be dedicated towards researching dropout and enrolment rates.

Program budgets for the 2015 school year – which cover administrative fees and provide resources like textbooks, clean water and clean toilet facilities – have yet to be distributed among some schools.
“This kind of late disbursement really affects the performance of schools,” Chanveasna said.

The MoEYS has yet to confirm when the program budgets will be handed out, and ministry officials could not be reached yesterday.

According to the report, however, the ministry hopes to initiate major reforms that will be in effect the following school years, including the launch of a national action plan on early childhood development, increased school operating budgets and surprise school inspections to monitor budgetary corruption and teaching standards. But Unesco’s Khapri urged patience.

“We continue to have some problems like high dropout rates, but they are not just this year’s problem or last year’s,” Khapri said. “It will take some time to see significant improvements, but with the reforms planned for upcoming years, we’re going to see more positive changes.”



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