Cambodia’s upswing in education spending to 2018

Savong Teaching

My friend Savong loves teaching. Here he is in full flight. His school, like those of other NGOs has helped pick up the slack created by government under-spending.

Investing enough in Cambodia’s future? I don’t think so. Until recently Cambodia’s state investment in education has languished. As a percentage of government expenditure, Cambodia spent until recently less than 12% of their total budget. This was ranked 140th in the world – but even then, the figure disguised the fact that the government income and expenditure in Cambodia was not all that high in any case. Education was getting a small slice of a small pie. Since early in the new millennium the numbers have improved slowly.

  • 2010   13.1%
  • 2007   12.4%
  • 2004   10.1%*
    *  Figures from World Data Atlas

Raw percentages are a blunt measure of course. In Singapore the percentage is around 20%, while in Japan, with its relatively ageing population and its excellent existing education infrastructure, the percentage is close to 10%.  Neither nation faces the steep challenges as faced by Cambodia in the past decade, however Cambodia, for a few years, has spent more on its military than it has on schools and teachers.

But that is changing. The education strategic plan, or ESP ratified in 2014 by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) set out an aggressive boost in education spending, taking the figure north of 20% this year, up to 23.1% in 2017 and towards 26% in 2018.

EDUCATION BUDGET MOEYS

Government plans and budgets are notoriously subject to changes and reality checks. The world economy is flat-lining in 2016, yet the MoEYS strategic development plan has inserted an optimistic growth in GDP of 7.4% for this year, and on this basis projected to increase spending from half a billion US dollars this year – 2016 – to three-quarters of a billion in 2018.

These figures need scrutinising. Where will the dollars go?  Do they keep pace with numbers of enrolments and the laudable plans to introduce upgraded science labs and computer labs – or boosts to teacher training?

Yet the intentions are great, and certainly have flagged the nation’s recognition that it has a burgeoning young population who need investing in.

For more education facts and figures – click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The government crackdown on school exam cheats

CAMBODIA PLUS BACK TO WORK MAY 09 097

A fishy pass rate in 2013 – virtually halved after a crackdown on Grade 12 cheating.

It is interesting to consider the extent – rife by any measure – of high school exam cheating in Cambodia. the figures are stark: 2013 the Grade 12 exams were wide open to cheating, and 83% passed. In 2014 following a crackdown on cheating, just 39% passed. Ouch!

How and why should cheating be so widespread in a land where there is a fairly strong religious moral code at work?

  • For one thing, there is a desperate profit motive – and a widespread form of cheating was always made possible by the willingness of some teachers to copy and sell answer sheets for the exams.
  • Second, as in countries like Italy, (or, dare I say, in New Zealand or the USA,) there is a distinction made between personal morality versus one’s stance towards a government which is largely distrusted. You wouldn’t cheat your family, but you might happily ‘beat the system.’
  • Third, the high-stakes for the grade 12 students. Passing those exams is like a gateway to a better future. Failure at this point has huge long-term repercussions. The small act of cheating today has had little downside, while it has potentially massive upsides: the risk is worth it.
  • Fourth – very poor exam supervision. In 2013 newspaper reports quoted students as saying they actively passed notes and answers around to their fellow students. There were an inadequate number of independent monitors, and of course some of the teachers who were doing the monitoring were the same teachers who had previously sold the answers.
  • Fifthly, nobody foresaw the ease with which social media could be employed to share the answers around the exam hall. With the ownership of smart phones being so high, it was easy for students to create Facebook pages dedicated to sharing answers among friends. Phones were allowed in the exam rooms.
  • Finally, and I don’t want to make this sound like an excuse, but the culture of Cambodians is very us oriented, rather than me oriented. In the classroom, students actively help each other. They are not out to succeed at the expense of their classmates. Exams are not a competition so much as a team exercise.

In 2014 the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport staged a well executed national crackdown on school exam cheats. They enacted a strategy designed to prevent teachers and examiners from publishing in advance the exam questions and answers. Given this was never going to be the whole answer, the Ministry also conducted body frisks on students entering the exam rooms. They confiscated cheat sheets and telephones. Lots of them! Finally, the authorities conducted much more rigorous supervision during the exams. Students who were used to whispering answers to friends remained quiet in 2014.

The crackdown in 2014 was a great step forward for a transparent and fair education system. Yes, many students learned that old-fashioned study and hard work are the most certain ways of graduating from grade 12. Ironically, the group who had in the short term had most to lose, were the tertiary institutions. Enrolments were down sharply for 2015, causing an unexpected cash flow problem for several universities.

See also: Exam result show dive in 2014.

See more education facts and figures.

Teacher Training in Cambodia. MOEYS official policy.

I don’t often do this but here – verbatim – is the Ministry of Youth, Education & Sport (MOEYS) official policy towards formal teacher training.

Teacher Training

  1. The primary objective of this program is to ensure an effective supply of teachers for all education levels so as to respond to the education system expansion through upgrading the competencies of TTC managers and education administrators, teacher trainers, school principals and other key staff of the MOEYS.
  2. The second objective is to ensure that the number of new intakes of all TTCs and the NIE and the subsequent deployment of new teachers should favorably respond to the growing demand for teachers in rural/remote and disadvantaged areas through the recruitment and training of teacher trainees from these targeted areas as well as from the areas inhabited by ethnic minority people.
  3. The third objective is to improve the quality of teaching through expansion of in-service teacher training.

Responding to ESP Strategies and Policies

Policy 1: Ensuring Equitable Access to Education Services

  • Ensuring teacher provision in remote and disadvantaged areas.

Policy action:

  • An action plan on multi-grade teaching in border and remote areas and/or areas populated by ethnic minority groups developed annually.

Policy 2: Improving the Quality and Efficiency of Education Services

  • Improve pre-service and in-service teacher development.

Policy action:

  • An action plan for the capacity development of teaching staff developed annually.
  • A report on the needs assessment for upgrading trainers’ competencies and an action plan for teacher trainer capacity development to be completed in 2010.
  • Master Plan for Teacher Development finalized in 2010.
  • Report on the needs assessment for facilities in all teacher training centers finalized in 2010
  • A plan for upgrading the competencies of secondary-school teachers with limited teaching capacity developed in 2011.
  • ICT documents in teacher training curriculum revised in 2011.
  • Modules of gender sensitiveness will be officially integrated into the teacher training curriculum in 2011.
  • Teacher training curriculum review to be completed by 2012.
  • Modules for inclusive education in teacher training curriculum revised in 2012.

Indicators and Targets

  • 5,000 new trainees will be recruited annually to enroll in all TTCs, in which priority in which priority will be given to at least 40% of teacher trainees from rural, remote and disadvantaged areas and those with ethnic minority backgrounds.
  • 3,000 primary-school teachers will be trained at the six RTTCs by the SY 2013-2014 with a view to upgrading their competencies to become basic education teachers.
  • 90 primary-school inspectors and 120 secondary-school inspectors will be recruited and trained at the national Institute of Education (NIE) by SY 2013-2014.
  • 1,500 new trainees from disadvantaged areas will be recruited annually and assigned to work in their indigenous areas after completing their education.

 

Cambodia: The growth in school enrolments since 1980

When the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979, Cambodia was a mess. The school system was of course just one of the victims of the regime, so in hindsight it has been remarkable that the number of children enrolled at school in Cambodia has risen to levels as good – or better – than those of the 1960s.

Two things drive these numbers. One is the number of children, which since 1990 has burgeoned. On the population pyramid below, we can see a dent in the numbers amongst those aged 35 to 39. That reflects the greatly diminished birthrate, as well is the greatly increased child mortality rate of the Pol Pot years. But since then Cambodia has experienced one of the highest birth rates in the world, peaking around 1990, but retaining high levels since then, though with a small decrease 10 to 15 years ago. (Source: http://www.indexmundi)

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Now let’s look at the school enrolments since 1980.  If anything, the growth of these school enrolments has been faster than the growth of population. The reason for this is the investment by both the government as well as by NGOs in the building of schools, and the removal of barriers to education, particularly in rural areas that were ill served previously. I won’t get into detailed figures here, but if I take the cohort who were born 15 years ago, a greater percentage of those have been attending school than their equivalents from the cohort five or 10 years older.

Don’t be alarmed by the downturn in the chart below. The recent decrease in primary school enrolments, is population driven, reflecting (as I mentioned above,) the recent decrease in birth rates 5 to 15 years ago. However numbers are expected to pick up again, judging by the figures in the population pyramid.

The chart below (based on MOEYS figures,) shows dramatically the overall rise in school enrolments since 1980, yet it shows just as dramatically the relatively skinny percentage of those enrolments that are occurring at upper secondary school level: grades nine through to 12.

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Cambodia faces challenges at each level of the education system.

Pre-School Right now, and not betrayed the figures above, is the challenge of introducing more preschoolers into the education system. The aim of this is to give these children a head start with reading, writing and social skills.

Primary School At the primary school level, as the chart above suggests, we appear to be at a moment of reprieve, whereby the available resources can be shared out amongst fewer children than previously experienced. However the primary schools sector is in the state of crisis at present because it is losing teaching staff rapidly. The reason for this is the historically poor levels of remuneration available for teaching staff. Many teachers are switching from primary to secondary schools in order to get more liveable wage.

Secondary School At the lower and upper secondary school level, there are several problems still. While teachers are highly regarded, and are on salaries that are comparatively generous – comparatively that is – there is still a shortage of trained teachers, and a terrible shortage of resources such as textbooks, science equipment and even such basics as whiteboard markers. By world standards the Cambodian government is a poor investor in its own education system. According to UNESCO figures, (2011)13.1% of government spending goes to education – skinny slice of the small pie.

From the perspective of Savong school in Bakong, Siem Reap, we can see how we have fitted in to the broad narrative of the post 1980 story. I think it is important for NGOs to keep evaluating their own role within the wider picture. Right now, Savong is examining the role of the school which works around the local secondary schools. They operate in the mornings, and so during those same mornings Savong’s School remains empty. The plan, due to be rolled out in October this year is to utilise the teaching and physical resource of the school in order to provide local rural students primary education services. This is quite apart from the language and computer teaching that his school already provides to senior students currently in grades 6 to 12.

For more facts and figures about the Cambodian education system:

 

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:

The voyage through school: how many make it past Grade 12?

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The Cambodian Ministry of Youth Education and Sport (MOEYS) has recently published a lot of education related data which, at last, gives us reasonably current information about the state of education in Cambodia today. One of the most telling figures comes from a table which charts the  percentage of eligible students who make it past primary school, lower secondary school as well as upper secondary school. The results for Cambodia as a whole show that less than half of young Cambodians are making it past grade 9. Just over a quarter complete the voyage through the school system, and graduate from grade 12.

The figures show there is a long way to go, but more so in rural and poor areas of Cambodia. Look at the contrast between the Phnom Penh figures, and those of Siem Reap. This is precisely the challenge and reason for Savong’s School to be established in rural Siem Reap. And our effort is a drop in the ocean.

Incidentally the boy in the photograph, Seanghai, is quite handily beating the statistics. He comes from Phnom Penh, though now he lives and studies in Siem Reap and is supported by the Savong Foundation. By next year he will be in university, so long as he keeps studying hard!

For more up to date figures from the Cambodian education sector – teacher student ratios and a teacher shortage in Siem Reap. Plus: How Qualified are the Teachers of Cambodia?

By the way, if you don’t know me, my name is Duncan Stuart and I’m a New Zealand based writer and researcher and supporter of Savong’s School in Cambodia. I love to write and would love your company – how about clicking the “follow button.”  Thanks!