Primary and secondary education

Article 68 of Cambodia’s Constitution states that the Government shall provide free primary and secondary education for all citizens and each individual shall pursue basic education for at least 9 years. Education is a fundamental engine of social and economic development for a country, especially the developing ones.1 Knowledge allows people to improve their quality of life and it is crucial for social and economic progress.2

In line with the Government’s vision of transforming Cambodia’s economic status to becoming an upper middle-income country by 2030, education has become a top priority. The Government has spent the largest proportion of its budget on improving education, increasing teachers’ salaries and bringing in policy reforms. In 2019, the Government allocated 915 million USD for education.3 The 2021 draft spending budget for this sector is reported to be around 825.63 million USD.4 The reduction is due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.  

Students are standing to greet their teacher. Photo by Global Partnership For Education. Taken in December 2011. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Primary and secondary education statistic

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS) is in charge of Cambodia’s education sector. Basic education consists of two main levels: primary and secondary education. Primary is the first six school years (grade 1 to grade 6), followed by secondary, another six years (grade 7 to grade 12).5 Public education statistics and indicators showed  a total of 14,522 schools across the Kingdom in the 2018–2019 school year.6 Around 13,300 schools are public and 1,222 are privately owned.7 About 80 percent of the private institutions (994 schools) are located in urban areas, while the rest of (228) are in rural areas.8 Public schools are mostly found in rural areas. 11,878 schools are found in the countryside and only 1,422 in the urban landscape.9  Out of the 13,300 public schools, 1,771 are secondary and the rest are primary. The pupil-teacher ratio is on average 34. There is a significant difference between rural and urban areas, however, with pupil-teacher ratios of 36.9 and 25.4 respectively. 10 

Statistic on Cambodia Primary School in 2018-2019

Source: Public Education Statistic & Indicator 2018-2019 (MOEYS), revived from
PESI 2018-2019.
Provinces Number of Primary SchoolNumber of Dis. schoolNumber of classesNumber of ClassroomTeaching Staff
Whole Kingdom7,2285562,20844,38545,836
Urban Area67509,1686,5039,565
Rural Area6,5535553,04037,89236,271
Banteay Meanchey41043,2132,2752,911
Kampong Cham40823,8672,8552,601
Kampong Chhnang27802,2371,5111,779
Kampong Speu31312,9032,1302,225
Kampong Thom48723,3092,3962,425
Koh Kong1214798512615
Oddar Meanchey21801,5041,007957
Phnom Penh16403,3602,2413,648
Preah Sihanouk724822558833
Preah Vihear22871,5391,0671,203
Prey Veng54424,5313,4412,765
Ratanak Kiri22051,393877776
Siem Reap50314,5273,1803,111
Stung Treng15211,140695742
Svay Rieng26202,2271,7791,685
Tboung Khmum39963,3052,2702,192

Primary education is considered a fundamental education that every individual needs to acquire for their self-development.11  MOEYS  has focused on primary education development and a large proportion of the budget is allocated to improve this education level.12  The Kingdom has almost achieved its goal of universal access to primary education. The Government is trying to achieve this through its lifelong learning and education for all policy. The primary school net enrollment rate for Cambodian children was 97 percent in the 2017–2018 school year.13 UNICEF has found that around 43 percent of children from age 3 to 5 years old have enrolled in early childhood (pre-school) education.14 The dropout rate at pre-school level was estimated to be around 6.7 percent in 2016 and is seen more often in rural than urban areas.15  The main reason for the early dropout rate the high repetition rate and poverty.16 Secondary education has a much higher dropout rate, around 20 percent in 2014.17 Many older students choose to dropout from school to find a job to earn income to support their family.18 

A young student raise his board up​ during class. Photo by Global Partnership for Education. Taken on March 17, 2015. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Development policies and framework

Cambodia’s education system has undergone vigorous reforms in the last decade, particularly around decentralization and deconcentration.19 The reforms focus on improving quality and inclusiveness in education, safety and hygiene for children, administrative and financial transparency and staff capacity development.20 Many policies and frameworks were adopted and implemented to improve the education system, such as the Education Strategic Plan 2019–2023, Cambodia’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4 on the Education Road Map 2030, Policy and Strategy on Information and Communication Technology in Education, Policy on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education, Teacher Policy Action Plan and New Generation School Policy, National Policy on School Health, the Child-friendly School Policy and so on. Capacity development has become the main objective of reform. In 2020, a new early childhood education program called “Komar Rien Komar Cheh Program” was launched. In collaboration with other relevant stakeholder, MOEYS has implemented this program to strengthen reading and mathematic materials for young children. The program also underline specifically on teacher’s capability training to illustrate this new teaching strategy successfully. Approximately 150,000 students in 2,100 schools in 2018-2019 have benefitted from this program. 

According to the Education Strategic Plan 2019–2023, the five pillar framework is:21

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

Marginalized social group​ including students with disability and indigenous group have also been prioritized. Set forth in article 38 of the Law on Education, students with disabilities are encouraged to enroll into the special education program that designed to assist and provide benefit to students with disability. In addition, Article 39 of the Law on Education addressed specifically on the rights of disable students. They are entitled to all the rights that other students have along with  special rights that exclusive only to students with disability. MOEYS has also developed and implemented Policy on Education for Children with Disabilities to further provided frameworks, strategies and implementation plans to assist this particular  group of students. In line with education for all policy, indigenous group are also included. Policy on development of Indigenous people is the legal framework created in 2009 to provided strategies and guideline for the development of indigenous people in the kingdom. The policy has encouraged the indigenous group to pursue education both formal and informal to develop their potential in order to sustain their daily life. Language barrier is the top challenges that ethic minorities and indigenous group have faced. 22 UNICEF and CARE have worked collaboratively to implement Multilingual education for students in rural and remote areas for a better opportunity to learn.23

MOEYS has also integrated ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into its teaching pedagogies and curriculum. The open access to technologies in primary and secondary education has become one of the visions of MOEYS set in Policy and Strategy on Information and Communication Technology in Education.24 Learning and teaching using ICT tools are being promoted in order to catch up with neighboring countries.  According to MOEYS, 141 secondary schools in 8 different provinces are equipped with computer labs.25  The creation of ‘new generation’ schools is the stepping stone toward modern learning in the country. Currently, there are around 11 new generation school pilot models operating across the country, with the goal of expanding the model to 100 schools by 2022.26

Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the education sector was badly affected especially in the 2019–2020 school year. Schools were ordered to close due to the fear of community transmission. Grade 12 national examinations, regarded as one of the biggest exams for basic education​ was also canceled. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport introduced digital education through distance and online learning during the pandemic as a solution.

Working with UNICEF, the ministry has introduced Radio Education Program that allowed primary school students in rural area, especially indigenous student to be able to access education during the pandemic through radio devices. However, around 1.4 million children are unable to access digital learning during the pandemic, however. 27 Both students and teachers struggle with the e-learning approach, mainly due to low digital literacy.28  Students in remote areas are hit harder since they often do not have the tools required for online class.29 

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