With the support of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and various other non-governmental bodies, Cambodia is moving towards 100 per cent enrolment of children in primary education.
Government spending on education has increased substantially in recent years. Hundreds of new schools are being built, and literacy rates have improved. However, as some areas of education have made significant advances, enormous challenges remain.
More work needs to be done to increase the lower secondary completion rate and address the issue of student dropouts.
The government is working towards a basic nine-year education for all Cambodian children, as provided for in the Constitution.
Technically, a child can complete 12 years of schooling: six years at the primary level (Grade 1 to 6), three years for lower secondary (Grade 7 to 9) and another three years for upper secondary education (Grade 10 to 12).
Enrolment rates for school year 2016/2017 were 93.5 per cent for primary, 55.7 per cent for lower secondary and 25.1 per cent at upper secondary level.
In a May 2019 report, Save the Children said that the percentage of children of primary and secondary school age who are not attending school is still high at 22.5 per cent.
Statistics released by the government reveals that for each grade at primary school, 6.6 per cent of students repeat a year and 4.6 per cent drop out. For lower secondary, the figures are 2.5 per cent repeating each year and 17 per cent dropping out. For upper secondary, 2.8 per cent are repeating classes each year and 19.4 per cent are dropping out.
Total completion rates fall dramatically after primary school: from 79.9 per cent at primary school to 42.6 per cent at lower secondary and 20.2 per cent at upper secondary.
Across the country, more girls (83.2 per cent) are completing primary school than boys (76.1 per cent). This gender difference also applies to lower and upper secondary completion.
The government and the World Bank recently signed an agreement to collaborate on the Higher Education Institutions Capacity Improvement Project (HEICP). Through the $90 million project, the World Bank will support Cambodia’s efforts to improve the higher education and research quality in the country and to broaden access to higher education for disadvantaged students.
This six-year project will focus on improving science, technology, engineering, mathematics as well as agricultural programmes.
The objective is to equip Cambodian graduates with more relevant and transferable skills that can support the Kingdom’s transition from a labour-intensive economy to one that is knowledge-based.
The project’s five key activities include: providing research funds in the priority subject areas; expanding classrooms and laboratories; building dormitories for disadvantaged students; strengthening quality assurance and information systems; and working with international partners to improve the curriculum and methodology of the priority subject areas.
The project is financed through credits from the International Development Association, the bank’s fund for the poorest countries.