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
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."