Four years ago, a consortium of NGOs in Cambodia identified 57,000 marginalised children who, for various reasons, were not attending school, and put them into classrooms.
Today, more than 90 percent of them are still attending classes, an achievement lauded during the Cambodia Consortium for Out of School Children’s closing conference in Phnom Penh yesterday.
But that achievement comes with uncertainty, as the program’s funding for Phase I has ended, and it is still unclear whether it will receive financial support for a second phase, which seeks to sustain the progress and nearly double the number of new children enrolling in school.
Vorn Samphors, country director for Aide et Action in Cambodia, said more than 20 NGOs pooled 50 percent of the program’s $20 million in funding for Phase I, which was matched by the Educate a Child program of the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar.
“I’m proud of the achievement that we made together,” Samphors said on the sidelines of the conference. “To learn that 93 percent of them, most of them marginalised children . . . remain in school with various support.”
The consortium focused its efforts on identifying children with disabilities, ethnic minorities, poor and remote children, street children and overage children. The 7 percent of students who did not remain in school either passed away, dropped out for migration reasons or simply disappeared from the system, Samphors said.
In remarks at yesterday’s event, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said only around 80 percent of students complete primary school.
But of those 80 percent, Samphors said, many are in school “only by their name”.
“But their bodies, their self, was maybe at the rice field, at the farm somewhere with their parents, or maybe in Thailand,” he said
There are an estimated 250,000 children out of school in Cambodia, he said.
Vong Vuthy, program manager of the Rabbit School Organization, which works with children with disabilities, yesterday expressed concerns over the achievements’ sustainability.
“If we stop the program, without the support of the program, these students will not be able to go to school,” Vuthy said.
Samphors said the consortium in January should find out if it will receive the roughly $12 million it needs from Education Above All, which again will be matched by the NGOs in the consortium.
During Phase II, the aim is to indentify 100,000 new children and enrol them in school. If no funding is approved, the consortium will still carry on, but with limited resources.
“We will still continue in small scale with our own funding, [and] with the partnership from the government, but we may not be able to identify and enrol 100,000 [children],” Samphors said.