Cambodia Education Response Plan to COVID 19 Pandemic (July 2020)


2. Background

2.1 Global context

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), and on 11 March 2020 WHO declared it a pandemic. There are currently no licensed treatments or vaccines for the COVID-19 virus. Experimental treatments and vaccines are under development.

In addition to causing morbidity and mortality across the world, necessary actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as adopting social distancing measures, have resulted in widespread and unprecedented global economic upheaval. According to current economic forecasts, the impact of COVID-19 is leading to the deepest global recession in eight decades, with a 5.2 per cent contraction expected in global Gross Domestic Product in 2020 despite unprecedented economic interventions by governments around the world. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock caused by COVID-19, resulting in an expected shrinkage of per capita incomes in 2020 that will likely cause millions of people to fall back into poverty.

Linked to the health and economic impacts of the virus, children’s education is being profoundly curtailed. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the learning of an estimated 1.1 billion children across 144 countries, representing approximately 68 per cent of total enrolled learners. In addition, 80 per cent of people with disabilities live in developing countries where access to education is an ongoing challenge. The impact on education is mainly the result of national school closures in many countries across the world, viewed as a necessary measure to control the spread of the virus. The impact of COVID-19 on education globally is so profound that gains made in recent years in expanding access to education and improving the quality of education risk being permanently compromised. This situation means that children who were already considered vulnerable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are now even more so, while children and their families who were not previously classified as poor are now facing impoverishment. According to recent global estimates, the economic fallout from COVID19 could push up to 86 million more children into household poverty by the end of 2020, an increase of some 15 per cent. This would result in an estimated 672 million children living below the national poverty line in low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2020.

This global health crisis threatens to significantly slow progress towards many global goals, in particular the fourth Sustainable Development Goal: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. This will result in a global learning crisis and global education inequalities, as the impacts will fall disproportionately on the poorest people.

2.2 National context

In Cambodia as of 30 June 2020, there had been a total of 141 confirmed cases. Of these, 130 patients have recovered to date.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) took the decision to close all educational institutions, including all public and private schools, on 16 March 2020. This decision, as in many other countries, was taken as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. The school closures have resulted in the disruption of learning in all of Cambodia’s 13,482 schools, affecting 3,210,285 students (1,595,047, or 50 per cent female) and 93,225 teachers (49,042 or 53 percent female). This does not include tertiary/higher education and non-formal education institutions. Of those students affected, 233,132 are in pre-school (116,096, or 50 per cent female); 2,023,473 are in primary school (970,053, or 48 per cent female); 618,968 are in lower secondary school (325,504, or 53 per cent female); and 334,712 are in upper secondary school (183,394, or 55 per cent female). Of those teachers affected, 5,414 are in pre-school (5,145 or 95 percent female); 44,914 are in primary schools (25,922 or 58 percent female); 27,738 are in lower secondary schools (12,451 or 45 percent female); 15,159 are in upper secondary schools (5,524 or 36 percent female);

The closure impacts teacher trainers and teacher trainees in 26 Teacher Education Institution (TEIs), with 720 teacher trainers (296 or 42 percent female), and 5,248 teacher trainees (3,268 or 63 percent female). The closure also impacts 124 higher education institutions (HEIs) across the country, including the 76 HEIs under the management of MoEYS. This is impacting 16,525 educational personnel (3,439 female) and 222,879 students (106,952, or 48 per cent female in the non-formal education sub-sector, the closure impacts 351 community learning centres, of which 310 are managed by MoEYS and the rest by development partners. The closure impacts 9,377 students (6,064 female) and 1,694 education personnel (405 female).

Although the priorities identified in this response plan focus on addressing the particular set of challenges created by the impact of COVID-19 in the sector, these priorities are consistent and mutually reinforcing of Cambodia’s Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2019-2023. The ESP focuses on two major policy priorities: Policy 1: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; and Policy 2: Ensure effective leadership and management of education staff at all levels.

As part of a carefully considered COVID-19 recovery strategy, and further elaborated in the Guidelines on Planning for School Re-opening, MoEYS will decide to re-open schools step-by-step, or fully, upon the release of the pandemic situational assessment by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health (MoH), and especially upon receiving approval from the prime minister. This will start with partial re-opening, before moving to full re-opening. School re-opening must be safe and consistent with Cambodia’s overall COVID-19 health response, with all reasonable measures taken to protect students, teachers, staff and their families.