Unlocking Cambodia’s future by Improving Access to Quality Basic Education

Originally published
View original


*Cambodia has achieved incredible progress in basic education, with almost universal access to primary education (enrolment in 2018-2019 was 98%). However, further progress is threatened by low quality learning and inconsistent access for specific population groups.

This substantially limits the full realization of child rights, as well as jeopardizing the future skilled workforce and human capital Cambodia needs to achieve its economic and development goals by 2030.*

What is currently happening in basic education?

Children in Cambodia are entitled to nine years of free education. However, specific groups of children struggle to access quality education at different stages of their education. For example, children with disabilities – particularly disabled girls and children with intellectual disabilities – are two times as likely to be out of school compared to their peers, and only 4% of disabled adolescents have completed lower secondary education, compared to 41% of their nondisabled peers. Pervasive cultural beliefs (such as disability being a result of bad karma) and low understanding about non-physical disabilities contributes to discrimination against children with disabilities. They also face practical barriers to education, such as lack of transport, limited access to assistive learning devices, or do not have teachers who can respond to their learning needs. While girls tend to have a better educational performance, progression and completion rates than boys, they continue to experience challenges in accessing full education. Girls drop out of school more often to support their household, and girls with less education are generally more susceptible to exploitation and abuse, such as human trafficking. Children from ethnic minority groups also struggle to access education as they typically live in isolated rural areas, may not speak Khmer, face discrimination from peers, and are more likely to be migratory and be deterred from school due to long distances between home and school.

Only some schools in some parts of the country provide multi-lingual education to children from ethnic minorities. Regrettably, even if children are not vulnerable to such discrimination and do access classrooms, the quality of teaching and learning remains below standard – the quality of Cambodia’s primary education was ranked by the World Economic Forum as low as 110 out of 140 countries. As a result, children have shown very low learning outcomes. Poor literacy scores may be partially attributed to a lack of access to reading materials, particularly in rural areas. A 2016 study found that only around 25% of schools have sufficient books and reading resources according to the MoEYS standards set in 2011. Other issues – such as a high student teacher ratio, low education levels of teachers themselves, and a loss of teaching hours – contributes to the inconsistent quality of education delivered to children across Cambodia.