Nearly 90 percent of Cambodian children interviewed in a new global survey said they would first renovate school facilities and create quality learning environments if they were given the reins of the education budget, a sharp contrast with the 56 percent of children in other developing countries who shared the same top priority.
Conducted by international aid group ChildFund Alliance, the Small Voices, Big Dreams study released yesterday surveyed more than 6,000 children aged between 10 and 12 in 41 countries – including 152 in Cambodia – on their views on education and safety in school.
The study found that 88 percent of Cambodian children would put improving school infrastructure at the top of their agenda if they were the country’s leader, almost twice the global percentage.
“[If I were the leader of Cambodia], I will fill school area with more soil to avoid flood,” said 10-year-old Sina, a survey respondent.
According to Orn Sophalla, executive director of Building Bridges for Children – an NGO working in partnership with seven primary schools to improve education for children – the figures are a reflection of the unequal plights and needs of children around the world.
“Having good school facilities and environment would be important to [Cambodian] children because it’s something a lot of them don’t get to enjoy, especially children in rural areas,” he said.
Prashant Verma, country director of ChildFund Cambodia, said the different aspirations of local and global children can be attributed to countries’ different starting points. “Looking at Cambodia’s history, we had to start from zero about 20 years ago, whereas other countries have very established education systems,” he said.
While Verma was quick to point out that there had been “rapid and positive reforms” to the country’s education system in the past five to 10 years, Sophalla maintained that current government efforts to improve school facilities and learning environments remain “very limited”, adding that they are typically left in the hands of “NGOs or rich people who can support school projects”.
“The government just focuses on supplies for basic functioning of the school, not the overall learning environment,” Sophalla said, adding that government funding is typically allotted to purchasing resources such as whiteboard markers, tables, books and “all the small things”.
Ministry spokesman Ros Salin did not respond to requests for comment.