Education in Cambodia




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Primary school students in CambodiaPrimary school students in Cambodia

In Cambodia, an education system has been in place since at least from the thirteenth century on. Traditionally, Cambodian education took place in the Wats (Buddhist monasteries) and was offered exclusively to the male population. The education involved basic literature, the foundation of religion and skills for daily life like carpentry, artistry, craftwork, constructing, playing instruments etc.

This ‘traditional’ education was gradually changed when Cambodia was a French colony (1863-1953). The French introduced a formal education system influenced by a Western educational model, which was developed through the independence period (1960s), alongside with the traditional education. During the following civil wars, the education system suffered a chronic crisis and was completely destroyed during the Red Khmer regime (1970s).  Between 1980s and 1990s, education was reconstructed from almost ‘nothing’ and has been gradually developed until now.

Presently, after its reform in 1996, the formal educational structure of Cambodia is formulated in 6+3+3. This means 12 years for the completion of general education that divides up into six years for primary education (grade 1 to 6) and six years for secondary general education (grade 7 to 12). Secondary education consists of three years each for lower secondary education (grade 7 to 9) and upper secondary education (grade 10 to 12). This formulation does not include at least one year for pre-school education (kindergarten) for children from 3 to below 6 years old and universitary education of 4 to 5 years.
Two others components of Cambodian educational structure involve non-formal education providing all children, youth, adult, disabled people with literacy and access to life skills. The other component is teacher training education. This allows students that successfully completed grade 12 or grade 9 to pursue teacher certificates at provincial teacher training colleges (for primary school teachers) or regional teacher training centers (for lower secondary school teachers).

Currently, the educational system is run by the Cambodian state, but private education exists at all levels and is run by private sectors. Most private schools offering pre-school education and general education have been operated by the communities of ethnic and religious minority including Chinese, Muslim, French, English and Vietnamese. Private higher education is accessible mainly in the capital of the country, but it is also available throughout the provinces of Cambodia.

Cambodian general education is based on a national school curriculum that consists of two main parts: basic education and upper secondary education. Basic education curriculum is divided into three cycles of three years each. The first cycle (grade 1-3) consists of 27-30 lessons per week lasting 40 minutes which are allocated to the five main subjects:
•    Khmer (13 lessons)
•    Maths (7 lessons)
•    Science & Social Studies including Arts (3 lessons)
•    Physical and Health Education (2 lessons) and local life skills program (2-5 lessons)

The second cycle (grade 4-6) comprises of the same number of lessons but is slightly different:
•    Khmer (10 for grade 4 and 8 for grade 5-6)
•    Maths (6 for grade 4-6)
•    Science (3 for grade 4 and 4 for grade 5-6)
•    Social Studies including arts (4 for grade 4 and 5 for grade 5-6)
•    Physical and Health Education (2 for grade 4-6)
•    Local life skills program (2-5 for grade 4-6).

The third cycle (grade 7-9) consists of 32-35 lessons which are allocated for 7 major subjects:
•    Khmer
•    Maths
•    Social Studies and Science (6 lesson respectively)
•    Foreign languages (4 lessons)
•    Physical & Health Education and Sports (2 lessons)
•    Local life skills program (2-5 lessons)

Upper Secondary Education curriculum consists of two different phases. The curriculum for the first phase (grade 10) is identical to the third cycle of primary education (see above).  The second phase (grade 11-12) has two main components: Compulsory and Electives. Compulsory involves four major subjects with different numbers of lesson allocated per week: Khmer literature (6 lessons), Physical & Health Education and Sports (2 lessons), Foreign language: English or French (must choose one, 4 lessons each) and Mathematics: Basic or Advance (must choose one, 4 or 8 lesson respectively). Electives include three major subjects covering four or five sub-subjects with four lessons allocated per week for each one (students may choose one or two or three of them):
•    Science: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Studies
•    Social Studies: Moral/Civics, History, Geography, Economics
•    EVEP: ICT/Technology, Accounting Business Management, Local Vocational Technical Subject, Tourism and Arts Education and other subjects

For those choosing Basic Maths or Advance Maths must choose four sub-subjects or three subjects respectively from the electives.


Education in Cambodia
From 1975 to 1979, the uprising of the Khmer Rouge political group upset a previously safe Cambodia where education was not only halted but regressed a devastating amount. Left in ashes over the last decade, education in Cambodia has begun to be re-established, setting in motion a prosperous future.

Cambodia, once considered a safe-haven and “Island of Peace” in the 1950s through 1960s, quickly became a torn country with the rise of the radical political group Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge’s primary goal was to turn Cambodia into a rural, classless society. To do so, the Khmer Rouge government targeted those most capable of opposing the government. One point seven million of Cambodia’s most culturally intellectual — doctors, teachers, lawyers, accountants, clergy, merchants, and engineers — were murdered. As a result, a generation of intellects was eliminated, leaving no one to pass down knowledge to the coming generations.

In an interview with CNN, Khmer Rouge expert Craig Etcheson described how “nearly two generations of young Cambodian men grew up learning little more than how to kill.” So, when the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, Cambodia had to rebuild from virtually nothing.

Additionally, Cambodia had to reconstruct themselves without approximately 25 percent of its entire population, consisting primarily of its educated class. Though democracy was introduced in the early 1990s, strengthening the country has been a glacial process. However, education in particular has been making strides in providing access to schooling and sex education.

Schooling in Cambodia
In 2003, the nonprofit organization
 Caring for Cambodia was formed to improve education in Cambodia by raising money and building schools for grades K-12. Thus far, CFC has built 21 schools in the Siem Reap region of Cambodia.

According to CFC’s website, over the course of five years, schools that participate in the program see a 70 percent enrollment increase.  CFC has secured 4,000 financial supporters as well as acquired 250 devoted volunteers to carry out its mission of providing education in Cambodia to an increasing number of children.  Students of higher education are also being given more access to opportunities.

The American University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia has partnered with the University of Arizona to offer Cambodian students a first-rate U.S. education. As of September 2016, as reported by Khmer Times, students attending AUPP are now able to take courses from the University of Arizona and earn a dual degree from the two schools in undergraduate and master’s degrees.

Sex Education
From 2010 to 2014, the pregnancy rate for Cambodian girls ages 15 to 19 increased from 8 percent to 12 percent. In 2013 to combat and reduce this pregnancy rate, Cambodia began a test project throughout schools in 9 regions of Cambodia.

This pilot project taught students in primary, secondary and high schools about practicing safe sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, sexually transmitted diseases, and gender-based violence and abuse. According to Cambodia Daily, teachers in Cambodia have attributed previously skipping over such subject matter to parent opposition as well as it being a “sensitive issue.”

Despite some believing sex education to be a taboo topic, the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia has recommended the government make sex education a core subject in grades 5 to 12.

As advised, the Ministry of Education in Cambodia will be rolling out the pilot program nationwide by 2019 with the goal of decreasing the pregnancy rate in girls ages 15 to 19 by educating and changing the traditional social norms.

Although the Khmer Rouge takeover presented destructive setbacks for Cambodia socially and economically, education in Cambodia has been making meaningful improvements since the turn of the century and optimistically continues to do so.



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