Education in Cambodia Essay

Education in Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia, common referred to as Cambodia, is a beautiful country. It is located between Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand on the southern end of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Before starting my studies this semester, Spring 2013 at USF, I knew little of Cambodia. I met another IME student here at USF whose family fled Cambodia during the civil war that started in 1970. Life in Cambodia became more dangerous during the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979. She and her family sought refuge in the United States. I was fascinated with her story of struggle and wanted to learn more. I have since interviewed others from Cambodia who were also forced abroad during that time. I wondered how this civil war and Khmer Rouge affected Cambodia’s current educational system. In this paper, I explore that question. The estimated Cambodian population for 2013, under the King Norodom Sihamoni, is 15,205,539.

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The population’s median age is 23 years. 95 per cent of the people speak the official language of Khmer, but others speak French and English. Buddhism is the official religion, of which 96 per cent of Cambodians practice. Two percent are Muslim and a fraction more of the population is exercising other religions. (CIA, 2013) Most government policy takes place in the capital city Phnom Penh that is located in the south-central region of the country on the banks of the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. (CIA, 2013) Traditionally, most of the education in Cambodia took place in Budhist temples. The teaching was limited to mostly boys and was primarily Buddhist studies. Later, when the French colonized Cambodia in 1863, a limited educational system was put in place following the French model. In 1931, there were just seven high school graduates. Five years later in 1936, there was only an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 children enrolled in primary school. (Library of Congress Country Studies, 1987) Nearly 100 years later, the French left Cambodia, and a more wide-spread system of education came into place ranging from primary school to vocational school and universities.

The educational system still followed the French example. The majority of schools were in the urban center of the country around Phnom Penh. This system was adequately serving the Cambodian population until the civil war in 1970. Between 1975–1979, the Khmer Rouge regime decimated most formal education and tried to eliminate all educated people. (Hidayat, 2010) A Cambodian Communist revolutionary turn dictator, Pol Pot, aimed a takeover of Cambodia. The plan included getting rid of people who may rebel so he could grow a new community from the ground up just the way he wanted. His aim was to eliminate the educated people. He ordered the teachers, educated adults, and even those who wore glasses to be killed or sent to labor camps. (Hidayat, 2010) People ran and were forced out into the rural areas. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, lead by Pol Pot, schools were closed. Many families fled to other countries. Traditionally, few rural people had a formal education. As the urban residents were flushed out of the country’s center to the rural outskirts, the rural people weren’t very welcoming to the city dwellers who didn’t know how to work in rural jobs. The formally educated became outcasts. The situation became worse; people were starving. The result was that many rural families fled Cambodia too. Pol Pot was responsible for decimating the educational system that was in place at the time in Cambodia. (Hidayat, 2010) “The effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care resulted in the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.” (USAID) Cambodia’s economics and educational systems suffer from political occupations, war, and internal conflicts. After the Vietnam-Cambodia war in 1979 things changed.

Starting in 1979, the government had to begin to build the educational system from nothing. Cambodia has made great strides in only 34 years, but there is still a long way to go. Cambodia’s educational system is improving. (USAID, 2013) More than 50 % of the people in Cambodia are under 18, (World Education, 2013) so; there is a big demand for education. Currently, children in Cambodia are required to participate in nine years of compulsory education. In 2008, 92% of Cambodia’s children between the grade levels of 1-6 were going to school. However that number drastically drops to only 34% for students in grades 7-9. Even lower, the secondary school enrollments made up only 21% of those who were of age to attend. Less than 1% of the population is enrolled in tertiary education. In 2004 the adult literacy rates were 84% for men, and 64% for women. (USAID, 2013) The current Cambodian system consists of preschool, primary, general secondary, and higher education. Preschool is expanding and is formal and informal for children ages 0-6 years. The primary school is also expanding with an aim to include all school-age children beginning at 6 years old. Primary school now teaches girls and boys, children with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and are reaching to help those engaged in child labor. General Sscondary school includes grades 7-10. The current focus is keeping kids in school and helping with transitions from primary to secondary. (MOEYS, 2013) Informal education includes vocational and technical training.

There is a system of tertiary education in Cambodia. There are currently 36 institutions of higher education in place. (For International Colleges and Universities, 2013) Scholarship programs are available. Some institutions are designed to promote the economic growth of Cambodia. Although the path that Cambodia is taking is in an upswing and seems very promising, this does not mean educational system is without problems. Currently many kids repeat grades. The teachers are poorly paid. Class sizes can exceed 33 students for a class in urban areas and up to 50 in rural areas. This, from my teaching experience, makes things extremely difficult for both educators and students. Local and foreign bodies are working to find solutions. Cambodia partners with several outside sources such as World Education Inc., USAID, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, and more. The Kingdom of Cambodia Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport has an expansive, progressive plan for educational improvement written that is working toward implementation.

The education program improvement is vast. Titled, “Rectangular Strategy Phase 2”, the “National Strategic Development Plan update 2009-2013”, the Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2009-2013 is currently being carried out. (MOEYS, 2013) Part of this is also the National Education For All (EFA) Plan which is hoped to be in place by 2015. (MOEYS) Some of this document includes a desire to expand early childhood education, technical and vocational training, and post secondary education. One important idea in this plan is serving the minority populations of Cambodia. This is exercising globalism and multicultural education. 90 % of the population is Khmer, 5% are Vietnamese and 5% are of other minority groups. Another one is conducting a needs assessment from teacher training programs, teachers, and school facilities and attending to these needs. The government also wants to improve education management for administration. Multiculturalism: refugees in the United States, them wanting inclusion Funding:

USAID has provided over $800 million in support of Cambodia’s development since 1992. The current USAID program in Cambodia traces its roots to humanitarian assistance activities in support of Cambodian non-communist resistance groups beginning in 1986. U.S. assistance to Cambodia accelerated sharply after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which in turn led to the re-opening of the USAID mission in 1992. This, the similarities of priorities to the United States of America, I believe is due partly to the large influence the US has on Cambodia because of the large sums of money coming from USAID. This is globalization of education taking place right now. Globalization: USAID, Partners/NGOs/Non Profit French colonization, structure types,

The USA helps out. Cambodia relies heavily on foreign assistance–about half of the central government budget depends on donor aid. U.S. assistance makes significant contributions to the country’s development. In 2010, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-administered assistance was approximately $70 million for programs in health, education, governance, and economic growth. Full diplomatic relations were established after the freely elected Royal Government of Cambodia was formed in 1993. Recent history of war including the Indochina conflict during the 1960s and 1970s.

Teacher Training
According to Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, there is a recent push, 2010, for improved teacher training. The three main objectives are to: supply the rural areas with competent teachers, to continue educating in-service teachers, and to ensure the supply of teachers in total for the country of Cambodia. First, they plan to train teachers to handle multi-leveled classrooms in rural areas and to place trained teachers in these rural areas. Second, improve and regulate teacher-training programs.
This will also include more recruitment with priority given to those from rural, remote, or disadvantaged areas and ethnic-minority backgrounds. The strengths of the Cambodian educational system is awareness of a need for improvement and a desire for inclusion and improvement. Their government is open to help such as idea models and money from outside sources. They also want to educate all people regardless of gender, race, ability, or class. I also believe that money spent on teacher training is valuable. They are on the right track. Keep it up! Include gender sensitivity training and inclusion techniques for teachers and There are many similarities to the United states.

placing key emphasis on providing educational access to children and youth who have missed their educational opportunities.

CIA World Factbook (2013). East and Southeast Asia: Cambodia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed March 27, 2014]. Library of Congress Country Studies (1987). Cambodia Public School System. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed March 25, 2013]. Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (June 13, 2012). U.S. Relations With Cambodia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed March 25, 2013]. Hidayat, Rahmi. Education in Cambodia, Are Cambodian’s Getting the Education They Need?(2008-2010). Holiday in Ankor Wat. Retrieved March 26, 2013. From U.S. AID Cambodia (2013). Education. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed April 2, 2013].

Kingdom of Cambodia: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (MOEYS) Retrieved March 26, 2013
World Education, Cambodia (2012). Our Work, About Cambodia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed April 2, 2013]. 4 International Colleges and Universities (2005 – 2013). Universities in Cambodia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed April 2, 2013].

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