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Stalled education law hinders system-wide reform

Stalled education law hinders system-wide reform

stalled.jpg
stalled.jpg

Tracey Shelton

Unless change to the educationnal system comes soon, Cambodian school children face a bleak future.

With no official education law on the books in place, cheating and corruption have

taken over the Cambodian school system.

The end result? According to Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teacher's

Association, 75% of public school students move through the system without getting

even a basic knowledge of the subjects they study.

Chhun said that after questioning and testing students from all levels, it appears

that "the majority seem to know nothing."

He said he found that although many students get consistently high grades, their

level of knowledge does not match the grades.

"If graduates lack the capacity to work in their own field, Cambodia will lose

its future and the future for the young will be bleak," he said.

For almost four years, the draft law on education has been stuck on hold in the National

Assembly. Without a law, the education system is regulated by government sub-decrees

issued and notifications from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

The prospects of the draft law passing are unclear. Meanwhile, taboos like selling

test scores flourish, to the dismay of the students who study hard in hopes of getting

a good job later.

"Sometimes it makes me feel sad because I study so hard to learn and get a good

score," said university student Sum Sarith who struggles to divide her time

between school and work. "But I know some people that have one or two degrees

already with lower knowledge than I ," she said.

"They might have the degree to get the job, but they do not have the quality

to do the work."

Mak Vann, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports expressed

hope that the draft law aimed at covering all issues related to education would be

adopted soon. Regardless, he said education is improving.

"I found that the high school examinations this year were well prepared - better

than in previous years," he said. "Cambodian students are clever, but it

depends on whether they are willing to commit to study or not. As I have observed

the students are more understanding of new technology, and the curriculum and text

books in the school are updated every year to parallel the advancement of the society."

Under the draft law, penalties for cheating include up to 6 million riel in fines

and three years imprisonment for issuing a false certificate or diploma. Educational

personnel who do not conduct examinations with "fairness and justice" could

be fined up to 10 million riel and are subject to "disciplinary administrative

measures."

Sok Sovanna, director of Bak Touk High School, said it is difficult to control and

manage the school system without a law in place.

"If the law is adopted it will help to strengthen the management of the schools

and the curriculum," he said. "Officials that commit wrong can be punished.

When the law is adopted we will have to respect and follow the law."

Others said even if the law is passed, it will be too little too late. Chunn said

the draft law has serious flaws, in particular the sections related to teacher rights.

An article proposed by CITA regarding the right to set up a teacher's union was rejected

and teacher wages are not sufficiently addressed, he said.

"I wanted to be a teacher to give knowledge to a new generation and help create

good people for the future," said Som Sopheak, who has been a high school teacher

for six years. "But it is not possible to support a family on a teacher's wage."

Sopheak and her husband, also a teacher, subsidize their wage by running a pharmacy

and small food store at their home. She said the low wages force many teachers to

resort to selling scores, exam papers or charging the students to come to class.

But she said things have improved. "Before we would often go 3 or 4 months without

getting paid, but now we get paid every month," Sopheak said. "I think

our government is thinking of teachers a little more these days."

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