Unesco’s report on education in Cambodia

This report ( click here ) provides an outstanding analysis of the importance of education in moving Cambodia  forward.   The other ‘case studies’ in the series (Bosnia/Herzegovina, Liberia, Afghanistan) illustrate the vital role of education for the people ‘fragile states’.

If you don’t have time to download/access the 100+ pages, here’s a summary of the executive summary.  It was great for me to be able to play some small part in trying to improve the education system in Cambodia.  This short report makes clear why that is such important work and why it may yet take a long time to move the system up to the next level and give Cambodia children the education they deserve.

Today, the most salient concern surrounds issues of a political nature.  A number of grievances stem from the tight governance characteristic of a single-party system, which is both enabled and augmented by the patron-client tradition. This is currently characterized by political disempowerment due, among other things, to media control and censorship, constraints on public dissent, and a culture of intimidation and fear, as well as patterns of patronage and corruption. Economic and social marginalization of the poor and rural population, as well as of many youth, further exacerbates political disenfranchisement, leaving all but the most privileged Cambodians frustrated and cynical. This pervasive distrust has usurped social cohesion and is further entrenched by reluctance to speak openly of the nation’s recent traumatic history, with the result that wounds from the past cannot heal or be learned from.

This report argues that education has a signifi cant role to play in addressing Cambodia’s current instability concerns, especially taking into account the part it has played, both historically and in the present, in exacerbating and mitigating fragility. The contextual analysis is thus followed by an analysis of the evolution and current state of education, detailing the complex, bidirectional interplay between education and fragility, on the basis that this may provide important insights relevant to planning for future reforms.

The review of Cambodia’s education system shows that, while the state of education has greatly improved over the past two decades, reaching more children than ever before and ensuring increased equal access to students of all ethnic, socio-economic, and geographical backgrounds, major shortcomings related to fragility continue to limit progress. In this report, the review of the sector is grouped under fi ve broad areas: relevance of education; disparities in access; (dis-)engagement with the education system; teachers; and structures and governance.  First, as far as relevance is concerned, the report shows how Cambodia’s current education system has failed to lead to employment and social mobility. Moreover, the skills it provides appear to be of limited political and civic relevance due to a lack of promotion of critical thinking and participatory learning, as well as to a long-standing neglect of national history, in particular relating to the genocide. This has resulted in a general lack of understanding of the factors that led to the worst political abuses in modern Cambodian history – an element crucial to ensuring their non-repetition, as well as to social healing and reconciliation.

Second, the report demonstrates how disparities in access to education – a salient symbol of inequality – persist in Cambodia, despite a purported policy of inclusive education. These disparities follow lines of deeply entrenched socio-economic divisions within the country, in particular between poor and rich, and urban and rural. The importance of gender and ethnicity as factors in determining educational access is also highlighted. While levels of female school enrolment have gradually increased, Cambodian women are still far less educated than men.  Also, many indigenous minorities and forest-dwelling communities are disadvantaged in terms of access to schooling as a result of forced land migrations and geographic and language barriers. In addition, equal access to quality education is hampered by primarily urban/rural disparities in distribution of qualified teachers.

Third, the report shows how a number of factors have led to the disengagement of various groups within the education system. Private education, to which the elites have tended to turn, as led to their disengagement from the government system, thereby reinforcing inequalities and deep divisions between rich and poor. Furthermore, entrenched systems of corruption, which favour patronage over merit, have tended to disadvantage and disengage the poor, who are often unable to pay the frequent unofficial fees. In addition, inadequate language education, resulting in widespread poor English skills and the inability to access less-censored English materials, serves to increase longer-term, broader disengagement with political and social institutions.

Fourth, as far as teachers are concerned, the number of qualified school personnel has gradually increased. However, the report shows that capacity still remains a major challenge:  teachers are largely under-qualified and in short supply. In particular, challenges persist in relation to insufficient in-service training and professional development opportunities – vital for unqualified teachers, especially in remote and rural areas where there is an especially acute shortage of qualif ed teachers – and a lack of qualified teacher trainers.  Existing challenges also include inadequate teaching pay and conditions, which have led, among other things, to the demotivation and low societal status of teachers.

Fifth, regarding issues of structures and governance, the analysis shows that current structures continue to promote centralized control, reflecting the centralizing and authoritarian tendencies of the government in place, in spite of efforts at reform aimed at promoting decentralization and collaborative governance of the education sector. At the local level, community involvement and accountability remain inadequate despite several reforms and initiatives. As far as external assistance is concerned, Cambodia is heavily dependent on aid, but has taken a positive step towards ownership of its educational future and breaking the cycle of entrenched aid recipient status. However, the Cambodian government has difficulty in leading donor eff orts given its institutional corruption and weak public financial management system, which have led to reluctance among donors to provide direct budget support through the national budget.

In its conclusion, this report demonstrates the interplay between education and fragility in modern Cambodia by highlighting the following thematic areas: politics and the politicization of education, history education and the failure to teach the genocide, socio-economic disparities and unequal access to education, social fragmentation, utilization of rote learning and other forms of traditional pedagogy, educational relevance, teacher capacity, incomplete decentralization, and the involvement of the international community.

 

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5 thoughts on “Unesco’s report on education in Cambodia

  1. Wow, that’s a very quick but profound comment. I was still in the stage that I thought “oh, I should send this to Danny!” 😉

    • Hi Leandra Yes.. picked it up from John’s link this morning and always happy to postpone work for a few moments by reading Cambodian material… the problem of course isn’t the analysis (which we might well have written, if less elegantly!) but doing something about it. That’s why your work is so important!! D

  2. Thanks… although I also feel that the report states that some of the are almost unchangeable (and should we want that?) because of culture. I was happy though to read about the critical thinking and the participatory approaches, because that ís something we are trying to do something about. But… as that other article from today states (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/1/), it is still coming from a Western committee….

    • Yes it’s difficult to get the balance right but it is about balance – you can’t walk away. Keep up the good work – a lot of that’s Down to the relationships, not the big ideas! .-)

      Sent from my HTC

      • I was happy to see many of thing that CITA has stated and restated affirmed in international report and also to see CITA cited………rest assured Leandra CITA had locked in on many of the issues in this report and will continue to strive to overcome the challenges with or without the help of other stakeholders.

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