Education policy and administration

The Royal Government of Cambodia has continued its effort to reform the education sector at all levels. Over the years, policies and regulations have been enforced to improve education quality, accessibility, efficiency, effectiveness, inclusiveness, and transparency. Those policies and regulations include Education Strategic Plan 2019-2023, Cambodia Secondary education blueprint 2030, Policy on higher education 2030, Cambodia Education Roadmap 2030 (SDG 4), Policy on Inclusive EducationNew Generation School Policy, and National Policy on lifelong learning. Human capital development is vital to achieving the 2030 economic goal of becoming a middle-income nation. The government has focused on education and training to increase human capital. The commitment can be seen in the yearly education expenditure. In 2021, education expenditure was 810 million USD and 797 million USD for 2022.1 

Access to education 

According to article 68 of the Constitution, the government is obligated to provide nine years free of basic education for eligible Cambodians. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) have pushed and promoted basic education enrollment throughout the country, especially for those in marginalized groups and those living in rural and remote areas.2 According to the Public Education Statistic 2020-2021, the public primary school enrollment rate is 86.8 percent for the 2021-2022 school year. In rural areas, there are 1,664,925 children enrolled in public primary education, while in urban areas, there are 345,361 children did the same.3

The government has introduced the Policy on Inclusive Education to support and address the problem of students’ access to education, focusing specifically on children with special needs and marginalized groups.4 In its strategic framework, the study curriculum is ensured to be capable for students with special needs. The policy also focuses on school infrastructure and sanitation, enabling a safe and comfortable environment for special-needs students.5

In the Education Strategic Plan 2019-2023, improving access to education is one of the main policy objectives for primary and secondary education.6 Following the principle of inclusive education and education for all, MoEYS has strongly emphasized vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities and indigenous people to ensure equitable access to primary school enrollment. The Education Strategic Plan set out three strategies for the primary education level to ensure student access to education:

  • ​Expand measures to increase school enrolment, attendance, and retention of children from the disadvantaged group
  • Develop physical infrastructure with clean and safe learning environments in line with primary school standards, especially for incomplete and disadvantaged schools
  • Improve children’s health in primary schools. 

Furthermore, one of the Cambodia Secondary Education Blueprint 2030 ‘s objectives is non-discrimination, ensuring equal opportunities for all Cambodians to access secondary education regardless of gender, social status, geography, language, religion, and ethnicity.7 It set out a plan to improve access to secondary education, an education level that is vital for individual development.8 

In 2019, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports implemented the National Policy on Lifelong learning with support from its development partner, UNESCO.9 Not only concentrated on formal education, but the concept of lifelong learning also pays close attention to vocational education which can be in the form of nonformal and informal education.10 The policy ensures that all Cambodians have access to learning useful skills and opportunities for education at any age to sustain their living, especially school dropouts, ethnic minorities, migrant workers, unemployed and marginalized groups. UNESCO has stated that lifelong learning is a process where skills and knowledge are promoted to improve peace and harmony in society. 11

Quality of education

Student was standing on the stage to do some exercises. Photo by Global Partnership for Education, taken in December 2011. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The government aims to transform Cambodia into a knowledge-based society, so improving education quality is necessary to realize the goal. Education quality is an essential factor in ensuring that students are equipped with proper knowledge and practical skills that can be competed with regional and international standards. Over the years, MoEYS has introduced many reforms and approaches focusing on different areas such as teaching and learning quality, infrastructure, and management.12  For instance, the teacher’s salary increase and grade 12 exit exam reform are measures attempted to enhance education quality.13 14 The government has also worked collaboratively with development partners and private organizations to push for more effective reforms.

As stated in the Education Strategic Plan 2019-2023, MoEYS is committed to the five pillars framework prioritizing national education policy reform targets.15 The pillars aim to enhance education quality which focuses mainly on teachers and their teaching qualities such as: 

  1. Implementation of the Teacher Policy Action Plan
  2. Review curricula and textbooks and improve learning environments
  3. Enforcement of inspection
  4.  Improve learning evaluations to meet national, regional, and international levels
  5. Higher education reform.

The government has addressed structural education change by introducing a School-Based Management (SBM) system. This approach decentralized decision-making power from the top level by allowing schools to have their own management decision.16 It allows room for autonomous governance decisions that can benefit and enhance teaching and learning qualities. In addition, SBM will also promote financial accountability and better financial management so that the allocation of funds can go to the right place where it is needed.17 MoEYS has implemented SBM as a pilot project on 100 target schools and 300 non-target schools under the 2018-2022 Secondary Education Improvement Project.18

From the supply side, the Ministry of Education aims to fulfill the ideal 40:1 teacher-to-student ratio recommended by UNESCO.19 In 2021, the teacher-to-student ratio was 46.2:1, which required MoEYS to recruit 6,950 teachers for that school year.20 In addition to new recruitment, MoEYS focuses on teacher capacity development which can effectively enhance education quality. Teachers’ standards need to be on par with the international standard to ensure that Cambodia’s students are equipped with 21st-century skills.21 Collaborating with development partners, MoEYS has launched various initiatives to improve teacher’s readiness to teach modern and digital-related programs and curricula.22 As a part of the teacher reform, teachers’ salary increase is one of the strategic reforms. For instance, 80 percent of the 2019 government expenditure for the education sector was allocated to boost teachers’ salaries.23

Science, technology, and digital education

Science, technology, and digital skills have become a fundamental force for social and economic development during the digital age.24 The improvement in technology and digital education will contribute to the process of achieving the overarching national economic goal. Moreover, the Cambodian government has also committed to transforming into a digital government, economy, and society, so the development of technology and science is vital. Since 2004, the government has injected Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering (STEM) and ICT education at both primary and higher levels. through various programs and policies.

One of the latest ICT-related education policies is the Policy Guideline for New Generation Schools (NGS). The initiative was first implemented in 2011 by the Kampuchea Action to Promote Education (KAPE), a nongovernmental organization working in the education sector.25 Then, the project was piloted by MoEYS in 2014. The initiative operated in 10 schools in 2015 and aim to reach 100 schools by 2022.26 The main objective of the NGS initiative is to introduce a modern and innovative way of teaching and learning in Cambodian public schools, such as the practice of project-based learning and a student-centered approach.27 The NGS project also adopts and practices the SBM system.28 

Participants were joining the Cambodia Tech Expo event. Photo taken from Cambodia Tech Expo’s Facebook page on 12 November 2022.

For higher education, science and technology graduates are vital for the country’s growth. In line with the objective of the government agenda to digitalize the government, economy and society, increasing STEM-related major enrollment and graduates is one of the necessary approaches. In Cambodia’s STI roadmap 2030, building human capital in the STI field is one of the priorities objectives. The policy envisions that in 2030 50% of Cambodian university students will be studying in STEM majors, and 40% of them will be female.29 The government has established the Cambodia Academy of digital technology (CADT), which aims to provide education, training, research, and development and promote innovation in digital technology to students, civil servants, and innovators to contribute to the development of digital government, economy, and society.30 This digital and technology-oriented education institution consists of three institutions, namely, the Institute of digital technology, the Institute of digital governance, and the Institute of digital research and innovation. In addition, The government has also attracted attention and raised public awareness through science and technology-related programs such as the establishment of Digital Economy portals and public events such as the Tech expo exhibition. 

Challenge and way forward

Over the two decades, the Cambodian government has made a great effort to reform and improve the education sector, mainly concentrating on students’ access to education. However, some challenges remain that have stagnated students’ access to education, especially those in the disadvantaged group, such as students with disabilities and indigenous groups. Transportation barrier is one of the most common issues for students in remote areas.31 This problem contributes to and is associated with the high secondary-level dropout rate.32 Many students residing in rural areas often give up secondary education due to long-distance travel from home to school. Another issue that affects access to education is the language barrier.33 Children from ethnic minorities struggle to learn as they might not know the Cambodian language. Most Cambodian schools and curriculums do not teach in different languages, such as the mother tongue of ethnic minorities. This has provided difficulty for ethnic and minority students, who will eventually be forced to drop out.

Other challenges to Cambodia’s education sector are education inequalities and teachers’ capabilities.34 One major action that MoEYS needs to solve is the gap between rural and urban educational institutions. Schools in urban areas offer a higher quality of education and infrastructure than the ones in rural and remote areas. During the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap has even widened.35 A report from Open Development Cambodia and ICT for Development Cambodia Network (ICT4D)found that teachers struggle with teaching during the pandemic.36 According to the survey, common issues are internet and electricity cuts, difficulty evaluating students, lack of communications, online security, and concern about privacy and language barriers. The challenge of distance learning presents loopholes that the Cambodian government needs to fulfill, especially in technologies and ICT readiness.37 The finding report recommended using ICT to enhance Cambodia’s digital education.

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