Education in Cambodia

Chamnan, teacher and co-founder of Camboya Sonríe, explains Cambodia’s educational system.
Education in Cambodia

Cambodia currently has a public school system. The school curriculum includes mathematics, sciences, history, and language, and the subjects are split so that pupils study two a day. The pupils attend four hours a day with two 15-minute breaks. Depending on the public school and school year, classes are offered in the morning (7-11am) or afternoon (1-5pm).

To understand the country’s current situation, it’s necessary to look back… During the Cambodian genocide by those known as the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) everyone who knew how to read and/or write was arrested and killed—as the goal was to become a completely agricultural country—so that intellectuals could not take power. The Vietnamese invasion in 1978 ended the Khmer Rouge regime, but it was not until 1999 that the conflict with Vietnam ended and democracy was introduced.
Once the genocide was over, the few people who had pretended to be illiterate,

to avoid being killed, were appointed public school teachers. To this day, few continue to work as teachers, since without specialized studies this kind of teacher has a very low salary (140€) and often has a different job.

The teachers who currently work at public schools fall into two groups:
• Teachers with specialized studies (180€).
• Students who finish secondary school have the option to be teachers on an ad-hoc basis and with a lower salary (140€).

Since the salary is low compared to the current cost of living—due to the inflation in the country because of tourism and the importation of products—teachers often organize extra classes at their homes to make some extra money. This means that a significant number of teachers skip the most important parts of the curriculum at school so that the pupils have to go to their extracurricular classes. Many families don’t have sufficient economic resources to cover the cost of extra classes for their children (approx. 9€/month per subject/per child).

In the city, this kind of additional class usually starts in the first year of primary school, but in rural areas they usually begin in the fifth or sixth year of primary school, since the teachers know that the families aren’t concerned about education and also can’t cover this cost.

In urban centers, families are more aware of the importance of education, and therefore teachers begin this kind of class earlier on. This parallel system devalues public education since teachers give more importance to extra classes than to their own classes in public schools. But the quality and operation of the school system is completely different in rural areas and cities. If you factor in the lack of interest from the families, their low salaries, the deterioration of infrastructures, and the average of 50 pupils per class, then the school system can’t improve.

As the years go by, families are more aware of the importance of education and, therefore, school absenteeism is slowly declining. But if you factor in the lack of interest from families, their low salaries, the deterioration of infrastructures, and the average of 50 pupils per class, then the school system usually doesn’t improve. This is reflected in the 1.5% of GDP that the Government invests in the school system, according to UNESCO data for the past 10 years.

 

Chamnan’s point of view

Families with few or no economic resources don’t consider education to be important, since there are much more important things for their day-to-day lives. As a father, I have the responsibility to help my daughters in any way that I can, since teachers at public school won’t help them if I don’t pay a monthly fee for it. Although I do my best to support them economically, I don’t expect them to pursue higher education due to the kind of education they’re receiving at school.

I’ve been a teacher for years and I’ve never worried about extra fees. I’m a teacher because I don’t want future generations to experience what I have experienced. Also, I want my country to improve and for that to happen, we need a good school system. To this day, there’s a kind of competition among teachers to see who gets more money, turning the students at public school into a business. This is the result of low salaries and a government that doesn’t control educational standards. Despite this, there are still some teachers who do their jobs well, but their quality of living is much higher.

I don’t know how many years will pass before we have full education because everything is in the government’s hands. Firstly, there are many parents who don’t care about education and then their children end up dropping out in primary school. Secondly, there are families who find that they don’t have sufficient economic resources to cover all the costs that public school involves: uniforms, textbooks, extra classes, etc.

When I talk about extracurricular classes and say that teachers have turned them into a business, it’s because when they get to secondary school they pay 0.20€ per hour for 5 subjects—that is, 1€/day, which is a lot of money per child at the end of the month. Even more if you compare it the fact that a family of 6 typically spends about 2€ a day on food. In addition, it’s not only these expenses but any paperwork, including exams, are paid for separately: in other words, you have to buy them. This isn’t registered by the government: it’s the school’s affair, as the school doesn’t have enough money and this is its only way of having a little extra income.

Furthermore, neither the schools nor the teachers deal with school absenteeism, as they consider it to be the families’ responsibility. Sometimes parents don’t know where their children are during the school day, and if a student skips repeatedly for a month s/he can’t go back to studying. Basically, it’s a vicious circle, since neither the families nor the institutions worry about minors’ poor attendance. In the city it’s very different because the parents and teachers are very strict and they care about education. The people who live in the countryside don’t have sufficient resources to go live in the city and give our children a good education, so no one worries about us or about what’s happening at schools. Also, if my daughter doesn’t go to school I might not even realize because no one’s going to let me know.

 Why don’t people think education is important?
After the Khmer Rouge regime, people more than 40 years old are afraid and have stopped thinking further ahead—they’re just surviving daily life as best they can. Since they’ve never had more, they conform and accept their lifestyle, and when they want to try new things they do it through alcohol consumption. When parents drink so much, they don’t worry about their children. This means that their children stop going to school because of a lack of food, clothing, and materials, among other things. Many parents given their children 500 riels (€0.10) to have breakfast, but this only lets them buy a piece of fruit, a bag of crisps, or a drink. Consequently, they don’t have enough energy to concentrate on their studies.

In conclusion, there are various factors that mean the public system doesn’t work adequately: low salaries, the fees for going to school, the lack of interest from institutions and families, and the belief that the few resources they have are enough to survive. It’s true that in the city things work very differently, and that people worry about education and the country’s development in general, but no one is worried about those of us who don’t have resources.

This opinion is completely subjective and based on Chamnan’s personal experience.

Do you want to know more about Chamnan? Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z14XWCyrGgc&t=24s