Are girls lagging behind in the Cambodian school system?

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A long-held concern with the re-emergence of the Cambodian education system has been the worry that girls are being disadvantaged, perhaps for reasons of tradition (is it the girl’s place is to look after younger siblings?) and possibly for systemic reasons: for example more male teachers.

Well, the Ministry’s figures suggest girls are doing virtually as well as boys, overall, though are clearly disadvantaged in at least half a dozen of Cambodia’s provinces.

MOEYS (The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,) has in its most recent census (2013) of school attendance measured the number of students who have successfully graduated past 3 goal-posts: Grade 6, 9 and 12 (which mark the completion grades for Primary, Lower Secondary and Secondary schools.)

Of those students who pass at each level, what percentage are girls? The answer, 49% for the lower grades, and 48% for Grade 12.

In other words almost exactly half of all students. A great result. More than this; the figures are almost identical when we compare Urban schools with Rural schools. Here are the MOEYS statistics.

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In half a dozen provinces, (I’ve indicated these in oranges and red) however, there is room for improvement and the Ministry, to it’s credit, is working to ensure gender equality within the education system.

For more fresh data about Education in Cambodia:

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Cambodia’s Literacy Rate

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School prize giving – Cambodia. A new generation and a higher degree of adult literacy.

The measurement of literacy rates is extremely problematic in poorer nations so it doesn’t surprise me that the UNESCO figures have wandered around – in fact they went down somewhat from 2008 to 2009 – a blip I’d put down to methodology rather than some demographic or education system ‘event.’

The figures show a largely upward trend over the previous decade and given the fast population growth the literacy rate, if you measure it in sheer numbers represents a gain of close to 700,000 adults 15+ between 1998 and 2008. This still leaves at least half a million adults deemed illiterate.

In world terms this is still not a great figure. UNESCO ranks Cambodia and 108th in the world, rubbing shoulders with Uganda, the Solomon Islands, Guatemala and Iraq.

The Cambodian government, which defines literacy as:

A person is literate who can, with understanding in both reading and writing, make a short simple statement on his/her everyday life.

has set goals for improving the literacy rates and certainly the school system is where it starts. In Cambodia, according to 2008 Census figures 88% of adults 15-24 are literate, (89% of males, 86% of females) whereas the figure drops with each age group and the gap between females and males gets wider: (48% literacy amongst 65+ with  74% of males and 31% of females.)

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The Cambodian Primary School droupout rate – 39% don’t complete primary school

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Here’s another sad statistic that reflects on the underinvestment in education for young Cambodians. For every hundred who start primary school, 39 do not complete their studies at primary school according to the latest available figures. “Oh but we’re a poor country,” might be the argument of the government – but poorer than Myanmar or Laos? The fact is, Cambodia spends a smaller percentage of the annual government expenditure on education than does its neighboring nations.

The result: 4 in ten do not make it to middle or high school.

Reasons include:

  1. Insufficient provision of primary schools especially in remote regions.
  2. Distance and transport. Many children live too far away from school and do not have transport.
  3. Financial – the fact that state schools charge money to attend. This is extremely widespread, and penalises the poor.
  4. Children required to work on farms to help the family income.
  5. Sickness. Child health is still far from ideal in Cambodia.

During the 2013 election the Government announced a 20% lift in education budget (a move I’d rate as a shift from totally inadequate to merely inadequate,) but the Government has not released any plans or policies to indicate where the additional money will be spent.

The annual education spend works out to around $50 per child in Cambodia up to age 18.

For more education statistics click here.

In Cambodia a Primary Teacher to pupil ratio of 1 to 47

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One metric that helps illustrate how much attention a nation is giving to education is the teacher-to-student ratio. Recently South East Asia Globe magazine ran an article by Frédéric Janssens who had gathered the best available data on teacher ratios across SE Asia. This was for primary schools. Alas, Cambodian children fare not just worst, but worse by a wide margin even compared to near neighbours Myanmar and Laos.

This is a problem, and it is not helped by a shortage of primary teachers in part because they are paid very poorly. Many professional teachers have opted to teach in secondary schools instead. The problem is not just that primary schools get a skinnier slice of the education spend, but that the pie itself is woefully small even when expressed as a percentage of the Government’s overall spend.

While Singapore’s government invests almost one dollar in every four into education, the Cambodian government allocates just one dollar in every 8*, and that’s despite the burgeoning number of children in the school-age cohort.

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The figures date from 2010-2012.

For more on the subject of Cambodian primary teachers and their pay – click here.

Savong’s School plans to open Primary School classes in October 2014 and the plan is to limit classes to so students per teacher. For more about these plans click here.

For Cambodian education spending projections, 2014-2018, click here.

* These figures suggest 12.4% of Government spending. Comparative UNESCO figures suggest 13.5% of Cambodia’s GDP.

You are just a step away from this amazing young woman.

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This young Cambodian woman focuses on what she can achieve – and her goal is to earn a university degree.

In my country, New Zealand, the Government has just been handed a damning report on child poverty and the document makes disappointing reading for a nation that once, literally, led the world in child care and education standards. So hardship has been part of the public conversation recently – though notably, the topic is absent from the various Ministers responsible for child care. They walk a narrow road and appear happy to step over those in need.

But in the midst of this context, this public debate about poverty Savong emailed me with a photo of a young woman who resides not far from the school her runs in Bakong, Cambodia. “Brother,” he asked. “Can we support her with a university scholarship. She wants to study for a degree.”

At first when I looked at the photo my reaction was – wow, she already has a laptop – but it was only then that I noticed she was tapping the keypad with her feet, and that she lacks hands and arms: through a birth defect. What unimaginable hardship. Every sentence is a labour of love for her.

Savong’s request also came in the context of some recent discussions we’ve had about the goals and objectives of his school and scholarship programme. These remain: to help poor rural students to reach their potential and to help them achieve positive, fulfilling employment.

Yes, we are also trying to run the school and the scholarships to a tight budget (and we know we cannot serve every needy person in Cambodia,) but now you have met this young woman, and when you hear her desire to attend university and to complete a degree: when you hear that, and you examine your organisation’s objectives – how can you just walk away?

Tomorrow Savong is interviewing her in-depth to work out her needs and her details. She is from a poor family and somewhere along the line has found a supporter who gave her the laptop. But in principle the decision has already been made. There is just no way we can morally walk away from her.

This is the new paradigm of charitable work in the internet age. Years ago we used to be told of “the starving millions” and at school we felt remote from this sea of needy humanity. But today the needs, and the personalities of those who need help are a mouse-click away.

The other consequence of our highly connected world, where you are now just two degrees away from this young woman, is that she is now part of your life. I don’t in any way mean to objectify her, or to lay a guilt trip on you – far from it. But the road we travel individually is now the internet highway. We meet more people experiencing the extremes of life. Do we merely step over them?

I’m hoping you can stop a moment and consider helping her achieve her mighty goal.  Contact me and we can put you more closely in touch so that your can personally sponsor her progress.  duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

You can make an immediate PayPal donation if you like. CLICK HERE.

For moe about how out scholarship scheme works: CLICK HERE.