Working towards a literate Cambodia

Students run through an academic exercise during a class at Wat Koh High School in Phnom Penh
Students run through an academic exercise during a class at Wat Koh High School in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Pha Lina

Working towards a literate Cambodia

We know that literacy is the basis for lifelong learning, which contributes to poverty reduction, democratisation and sustainable development. Literacy is critical in improving quality of life by allowing literate citizens to seek alternative solutions for enhancing health and nutrition, to proactively participate in community development and to value gender equality for its role in the attainment of overall family happiness. The importance of literacy was accurately summed up by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who said: “Literacy not only changes lives, it saves them.” Yesterday, we marked International Literacy Day, a day devoted to the connection between literacy and sustainable development.

International trends in trade show that foreign investors pay particular attention to a country’s literacy rate prior to making investment decisions. Therefore, a country with a higher literacy rate is likely to attract more foreign direct investment, which accelerates rapid economic growth and increases employment opportunities.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, among ASEAN countries, the literacy rate in Cambodia of those 15 years old and over is higher than in Laos (72.2 per cent) yet lower than in other countries such as Indonesia (92.6 per cent), Malaysia (92.1 per cent), Myanmar (91.9 per cent), Vietnam (93.9 per cent) and Thailand (96.4 per cent). This indicates the need for Cambodia to accelerate its efforts and allocate adequate resources to improve literacy in order to enhance the country’s competitiveness, particularly in light of ASEAN’s upcoming economic integration.

The government and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport recognise the vital role of literacy and lifelong learning in attaining national development goals. The National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018 identifies literacy and lifelong learning as key policy priorities. The Education Strategic Plan 2014-2018 has identified nonformal education, which includes literacy, as a subsector within Cambodia’s education sector. The ministry is working with national and international partners – mainly with UNESCO – to strengthen education policy and capacity development, specifically in the nonformal education subsector, and to expand innovative programs for youths and adults through the Capacity Development for Education for All program.

To accelerate its literacy efforts, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is implementing the Country Literacy Acceleration Plan with UNESCO’s support. This action plan is a road map for lifting the literacy rate of Cambodia, as it determines realistic literacy priorities, targets and strategies at the national and provincial levels. Part of this plan is the geographic mapping of the literacy situation at the district and commune levels.

One important mechanism that has been initiated and implemented by the ministry is the establishment of 348 Community Learning Centers (CLCs) across the country. These centres are essential mechanisms to deliver multiple programs, such as literacy classes, vocational skills acquisition and income-generation initiatives, to the community, particularly in rural areas. Better managed CLCs will enable the ministry to better target disadvantaged populations and support the government’s goals to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.

While celebrating International Literacy Day yesterday, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNESCO called for a significant increase in the allocation of both financial and human resources from the government, development partners and civil society during the next 480 days – until 2016 – to accelerate literacy efforts in Cambodia.

Hang Chuon Naron is the minister of education, youth and sport. Anne Lemaistre is the UNESCO representative in Cambodia.

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