Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the close of a three-day education congress in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
MISSING the targets
- 2007-08 primary enrolment: 93.3 percent
- 2010 target: 100 percent
- 2007-08 survival rate grades 1 to 6: 52.5 percent
- 2010 target: 100 percent
- 2007-08 lower secondary enrolment: 34.8 percent
- 2010 target: 75 percent
- 2007-08 upper secondary enrolment: 14.8 percent
- 2008 target: 18 percent (no target set for 2010)
Source: Ministry of Education report on 2007-08 performance
IN a wide-ranging assessment of the Kingdom's education system, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Wednesday for officials to enhance the quality of education programs at all levels while extending the much-touted enrolment gains seen in recent years.
"At the same time as we build more primary and secondary schools, we have to improve quality as well," he said, citing higher education institutions as particularly deficient.
His remarks concluded the National Education Congress, a summit that brought government officials, NGO members and development partners together for three days of at the National Institute of Education.
The summit coincided with the release of a report by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport detailing its performance during the 2007-08 academic year and outlining future targets. Though the report points to many "positive achievements" in the education sector stemming from "the clear guidance of the Royal Government of Cambodia", it also describes an array of challenges - from understaffed preschools to unregulated higher education institutions - that could prevent Cambodia from
meeting targets under its Education Strategic Plan (2006-2010), Education For All Plan (2003-2015) and Millennium Development Goal pertaining to education.
Inside higher education
The report's assessment of the Kingdom's 63 higher education institutions is decidedly negative, both in terms of quality and access.
"Some HEIs using the name University obviously have neither the capacity nor the possibility to be a proper HEI," the report states, using an acronym to refer to the institutions.
Hun Sen also singled out higher education institutions as deficient, calling master's and doctoral programs "too easy".
"Some master's and PhD students cannot type on computers," he said. "I don't want just 10 students out of every 100 to get a quality education."
Even those that offer high-quality programs, moreover, are in many cases failing to prepare the Kingdom's well-educated students for jobs in growth sectors, according to the report.
Most HEIs "offer the same degree programs" in fields for which employment opportunities are limited while ignoring "national needs" such as science, technology, mathematics, agriculture and health, the report states.
"There are not enough students in these fields," it states.
Accessing these institutions, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly difficult. Though the number of available scholarships increased last year, the percentage of students receiving scholarships among those who passed grade 12 exams decreased, the report states, adding that 12 percent of students who receive a scholarship for their first year of higher education ultimately drop out "because of financial difficulties".
The report also notes that the "HEI budgets are inadequate and lack transparency in implementation" and calls for a budget increase, among other initiatives, to address quality and equity issues.
The early years
The number of children enrolled in pre-school increased by 9.7 percent in the last academic year, from 124,654 to 138,038, including 69,500 girls. The report states, however, that "preschool teacher deployment is still very low in remote areas" and that a lack of funding could hinder the expansion of preschool programs in the future. Moreover, there are few programs for children with disabilities and children of ethnic minority groups.
At the primary school level, the net enrolment ratio increased by 1.2 percent to 93.3 percent. The Millennium Development Goal pertaining to education calls for Cambodia to achieve universal primary enrolment by 2010.
The goal also calls for a 100-percent survival, or retention, rate for grades one through six. Though this rate increased by 3.2 percent last year, it remains, at 52.5 percent, far short of the target.
The quality of education remains a major issue across the sector.
Though acknowledging that primary school targets under the Education Strategic Plan have not been met, the report argues that education at the primary school level "is improving gradually year by year" on the strength of expanded teacher incentives, enrolment campaigns, improvements to libraries and "the prevention of violence on children", among other factors.
Problems plaguing primary schools include a lack of teachers in rural and remote areas, "insufficient access to textbooks" and poor infrastructure, the report states.
Lower secondary enrolment increased by less than 2 percent to 637,529 students, or 63.8 percent of the 2008 target of 1 million students. The net enrolment rate was 34.8 percent, less than half of the 2010 MDG target of 75 percent. The ministry is aiming for a 40-percent lower secondary enrolment rate for the 2008-09 academic year.
At the upper secondary level, the enrolment rate was 14.8 percent, short of the 2008 target of 18 percent. A total of 260,965 students were enrolled at this level, or 86.9 percent of the 2008 target of 300,000 students.
Three new high schools were established last year, while 26 lower secondary schools were upgraded to include all secondary grades. There are 315 high schools in the Kingdom.
In opening remarks Monday, Richard Bridle, a Unicef representative who spoke on behalf of development partners, captured the tone of both the report and the summit generally, saying, "While Cambodia has made remarkable progress in the expansion of access to education over the past 10 years, the quality of education remains a major issue across the sector".