Cambodia Has A Long And Eventful History Education Essay

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Cambodia has a long and eventful history, harking back to the Khmer Empire in the ninth century. It became a French colony in mid nineteenth century until 1953 when King Sihanouk became the ruler for the next two decades. The education system during this period was significantly improved as King Sihanouk embarked on an ambitious plan to build many schools and universities. Cambodia remains a constitutional monarchy under King Sihamoni (Dev, Sharp, & Costa, 2010).

The public education system is divided into 6 years of primary schooling (grades 1 to 6), followed by 3 years of lower secondary (grades 7 to 9) and 3 of upper secondary (grades 10 to 12). In 1997, the education system was expanded to 12 years by adding a year at the end of primary school (6+3+3). Basic education consists of lower secondary and primary school (9 years). The right to 9 years of free, quality education is preserved in the Cambodian Constitution, but the significance of "Basic Education" has grown since the release of the Education for All (EFA) National Plan of Action in 2002. The primary and lower secondary curriculums were revised in 1996 and again, as the Basic Education Curriculum, in 2006. Education, youth and sport, both public and private, are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) (Purcell, Riddell, Taylor, & Vicheanon, 2010).

As can be seen, education has been playing significant roles in developed and developing countries. However, a concern related to increasing the length of time students remain at school is a global issue. The net enrolment ratio in secondary school is a concern to be considered in achieving the EFA goals.

According to the Education Management Information System (EMIS), the net enrolment ratio in secondary school is a concern to be considered in achieving the EFA goals. According to EMIS, net enrolment ratios in secondary school were very low with 31.9 in lower secondary school and 19.4 in upper secondary school for the School Year 2009/2010. When compared to the statistics of 2008/2009, net enrolment ratio in lower secondary school decreased by 2 percent points while in upper secondary school increased by 3 percent points (Non-Government Organization [NGO], 2011).

Basically, in order to keep improving the quality and efficiency of education services, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) has made efforts by using all forms of capacity development for teachers in learning and teaching methodologies at all education levels. The MoEYS has gradually strengthened and updated the curriculum and textbooks, and the textbooks are available for every student, one textbook per subject at the basic education and at upper secondary education level. Additionally, the MoEYS has also tried its best to reduce the repetition and dropout rates as well to increase completion rates at all education levels. The completion rate in lower secondary education has almost reached the target and the one in upper secondary education exceeded the set target (MoEYS, 2010).

Students usually apply for their new school year on the 1st of October every year. In the school year 2011-2012, the number of students who applied for grade nine in PPHS was 526, including 245 females. In order to take the national examination for grade ten, the grade students have to complete the examination form. However, of the 526 students, there were only 466 who filled the form. Remarkably, after taking the national exam, 436 of the 466 students passed, and all of them have applied for their grade ten in year 2012-2013. Of the 526 students who entered year nine, 436 progressed to year ten. This gives a dropout rate of 17.11% (PPHS, 2012).

The term "retention" and "attrition" as applied to students vary in the literature but for the purposes of this study these terms apply to the progression or dropping out of students between grade nine and ten (Lamb, Walstab, Teese, Vickers, & Rumberger, 2004).

Problem Statement

Keeping student in school for a long time is not really easy and student attrition is a big problem in Cambodia. Thousands of students drop out every year around the country. Moreover, student attrition is not only has a cost for individuals and families but for the whole country. In Cambodia the dropout rate in the transition from lower to upper secondary school was 21.8% in 2008-2009. In addition, dropping out can result in many problems such as, lower standard of living, woman society, parents do not see the outcome of their children graduating, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and physical illness. Recognizing the fact that the dropout rate at the lower secondary level is high, the quality of education need to be improved (NGO, 2009). Therefore, in order to reduce dropout and increase student retention, we have to think about negative and unfulfilling school experiences, and severe home and welfare problems. These three factors interact with each other and, combined with gender, socio-economic, students' academic achievement, and ethnicity influences, affect students' decisions to leave school early. International studies found students who were least likely to succeed were disaffected by their experience of school, and appeared to have less realistic aspirations than their not-at-risk peers.

To this point, I have pointed to some of the factors which lead students to dropout from school. However, as the research questions below indicate, the focus in this study is on the other side of the coin. That is, on why students choose to progress from grade nine to grade ten. If we know why students stay in school, school directors will be able to build on those positive factors to encourage more students to stay in school.

Research Questions

In view of the above, this study has set out to explore the reasons why students decide to progress from lower to upper secondary school in a Phnom Penh high school. Therefore, the two primary research questions for the study are as follows:

What reasons do students give for deciding to progress from grade nine to grade ten?

To what extent do individual factors and factors of the family and school environments play in students' decisions to progress to tenth grade?


The study will mainly provide information that will be used by the school to encourage male and female students to progress from grade nine to grade ten. My hope is that the research findings will provide one step that will help students go on to reach higher levels of education and improve their life opportunities. Educated boys and girls can have benefits not only for the nation but also for the whole world. Furthermore, they can have more productive work output (business, agriculture, teaching, etc.), smaller, more sustainable families, better health, and avoid negative social behavior such as drug abuse.

This research is significant in two more ways. First, up to now, there has not been any published research on the factors which influence the decisions of students in Cambodian high schools to progress to grade ten. This study will begin to fill this gap. Second, as my literature will show, most international literature focuses on why high school students drop-out. However, there is a growing international literature which focuses on the reasons why some students decide to complete upper secondary education.

Chapter 2

Literature Review

This literature review will focus on studies which discuss the related issues of student attrition and student retention, looking at student attrition first. Most literature focuses on student attrition, but as will be seen below, there is a growing number of articles on why students decide to stay at school.

In order to identify the literature for this paper I reviewed both international and national sources. The resources used for the literature review were found in: the Hun Sen Library of the Royal University of Phnom Penh; and some other well-known websites of MoEYS, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), ERIC, James Cook University,,,,, and Google Scholar.

The keywords I used for identifying relevant literature are divided into three categories such as individual student factors, family factors and school factors. The literature was categorized into the three themes described in the keywords above and those themes or categories have been used to shape the structure of this chapter. A discussion of the literature written in contexts outside of Cambodia is followed by a review of material that focused on the Cambodian situation. While much of the literature is about student attrition rather than student retention, it is still relevant as factors such as the school environment are relevant to both.

International Literature Review on Student Retention

School attrition.

Gray and Hackling (2009) in a study in Australia compared young students who completed secondary schooling, with those who did not complete. These were more likely to experience prolonged periods of unemployment, achieve low-paid and low-skilled jobs and find it hard to stabilize job security. As a result, they seemed to earn less income, depended on government support and not actively take part in community life. But why do students leave school early? There is a significant literature on general dropping out, basically in relation to the non-completion of post-compulsory education. In one literature review, researchers identified 39 possible factors relating to the three main areas of the individual, their family and school life. This was their starting point to investigate the reasons why students left school under-age (Brooks, Milne, Paterson, Johansson, & Hart, 1997).

The authors also searched about social factors which provide the socio-economic context for the three major factors above such as unemployment levels, availability and cost of housing and the availability of community support and services. There was a clear relationship between early school leaving and socio-economic disadvantage (Brooks et al, 1997). I will use the three main areas identified by Brooks et al (Brooks et al, 1997) as the basic for my literature discussion.

Individual student factors.

The individual student factor is one of the main factors which lead to school attrition. In this factor, low self-esteem in the most important issue leading to under-age leaving because it focuses on the poor self-belief and confidence in their own ability and value of schooling. Further, there are many other main factors to affect the student performance themselves such as boredom and lack of motivation for learning, lack of commitment to goals relating to education and employment, personal stress due to gender-based harassment by boys and/or teachers, conflict and influence of peers, physical illness or disability, and difficulties of learning. More importantly, mental health problems, intellectual disability, disruptive behavior, involvement in criminal activity, alcohol and other drug use, poor academic performance, lack of literacy skills, and living in rural and remote areas are also playing significant roles in influencing young people to stay away from school (Brooks et al, 1997).

Nicaise,Tonguthai and Fripont (2000), revealed that students were not able to go to school as their health was not strong enough due to many kinds of illness (diarrhea, malaria, and respiratory infections). What is more, the study found that diseases may have a double, affected on school-going behavior because children, especially girls, were kept home from school to care for sick siblings. "The entire area on the western border of Tak is infested with malaria, all the schools have 'hardship allowance' which proves how bad the problems are. These diseases cause the students to be weak, become sick very often, and miss classes" ( Nicaise,Tonguthai, & Fripont (2000), P. 68) said a teacher in Tak.

Family factors.

Family factors were a major issue leading to under-age school leaving. It was connected with marital failure, sibling competition, cultural conflict, rejection of parental values and fragmented and re-formed family structures which caused by the death of a parent or divorce. Moreover, school attrition can be influenced by physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse in the family, disruption to schooling caused unemployment flexibility, poor family status and homelessness, and parents are not interested in schooling, supporting their children and do not understand the value of education (Brooks et al, 1997). Furthermore, Brooks et al (1997) claim that "Students with chronic family problems are often homeless or are "testing out" leaving home. This tends to mean irregular attendance at school and they start to drift away from the social context of school" (p.17). In addition "Dysfunctional families or family breakdown often leads to dislocation and moving around. It's easy for kids in these families to drift away from school". (Brooks et al, 1997, p.17)

Similarly, Nicaise,Tonguthai and Fripont (2000), in Thailand, have found that the attrition in Thailand was affected by family conditions such as separated or dead parents, imprisoned or addicted parents, and extended families. For these circumstances, students found it hard to stay on at school. "Some parents are drug addicts or drug peddlers and were put in prison so the kids are left to the care of relatives but not anyone permanently" (Nicaise, et al, p. 74)," said Klong Toey. Another student in Bangkok Commented:

My parents separated when I was in Prathom 2, four years ago. They fought a lot about whom I should stay with, in and out of police stations all the time and took me to stay with various relatives, in different provinces. I had to move around from school to school, I cannot remember how many, maybe ten, but certainly more than five. I came back to this present school for the third time already (Nicaise et al, 2000, p. 73).

School factors.

The school environment is a major factor influencing students' decisions to stay longer in school or leave school early. School quality and teacher characteristics may affect how long students carry on in school as well as their test scores in a given school year (Ehrenberg & Brewers, 1994). Similarly, other researchers in Australia argued that year 9 and 10 students in Queensland secondary schools found that a lack of curriculum options in lower secondary school led some young people to lose interest because they realized that high school would not provide them with the job training they wanted for work preparation. That is to say, teaching and learning performance in school are boring, and what they studied from school was not relevant or responsive to student needs for employment or life (Lamb et al, 2004). "If students see school as boring and irrelevant, then they see little value in education. They face lots of other pressures to pull them away from school," (Lamb et al, 2004, p. 19).

In addition, other problems included school operation and curriculum were not culturally appropriate, students and teachers did not get along well with each other, lack of a caring and supportive school environment, lack of student participation in school decision making processes, and competitive pressures due to examination-dominated assessment (Lamb et al, 2004).

Whannell and Allen (2011), at the University of the Sunshine Coast, demonstrated in their study that a number of aspects of the school experience including academic outcomes were relevant to student attrition and retention. Most importantly, the students' decisions for dropping out were influenced by poor student-teacher relationships, lack of classroom attendance, and low levels of academic achievement. Therefore, the quality of academic achievement was strongly associated with the quality of the student-teacher relationships which occurred.

Student retention.

The most helpful paper I discovered on the reasons why students stay at school was by Munns and Parente (2003). They investigated why some indigenous students chose to complete high school although most of their fellow indigenous students dropped out. Munns and Parente (2003) also surveyed some of the international literature on students who succeed and they argued that many lessons can be learned from the positive stories of those who overcame obstacles to succeed. These lessons can be used by school leaders, parents and the students themselves to create more educational success. I will use Munns and Parente (2003) as the key text in the discussion of issues of student retention.

Individual factors.

Individual factors can be negative and positive for student goals. Even though Munns and Parente (2003) addressed some negative issues leading young people to under-age school leaving, they emphasized that positive factors played a significant role in keeping many students at school .They argued that students themselves should build up their capacity by being provided opportunities to experience success and get involved, setting personal goals for stronger educational success and better in relation fields to developments in the society and independent life skills (Munns & Parente, 2003) .

Besides, Munns and Parente, 2003, reasoned that even though some students traditionally became dissatisfied and left school, it was necessary to encourage more students from poor and minority backgrounds to keep staying at school, rather than reject school. Likewise, the researchers revealed that the students were likely to have willpower to overcome personal challenges and achieve their educational goals. It meant that students had to ignore personally directed and institutional racism, the pressures of joining many of their friends who had dropped out of school and just "get on with it". It was clear that the Indigenous students were determined to work hard to achieve something in their lives because education was accepted as a gateway to job opportunities.

School factors.

Munns and Parente (2003) found that some indigenous students who stayed longer at school than their indigenous peers thought that school was a good place to be even though they still experienced some racism. One indigenous student who stayed on at school said "You get a lot more respect which is good and they expect more. You find it easier to go to class and you can express yourself more" (2003, p. 8).

Furthermore, the most important aspect of the school environment was teacher performance. Students who received good encouragement and advice from teacher were more likely to stay in school than students who did not (Munns & Parente, 2003).

I got something off the careers advisor. He explains what we need to do, like to get into that kind of course. If we like leave school or anything, and stuff like that … We usually get a selection sheet of all the courses we want to do, … He usually calls a meeting on what courses we need to do (Munns & Parente, 2003, p. 13).

Family factors.

Family is a second place for young generations to be educated aside from school. And it is a major factor to influence children to remain at school as well. According to a research by Munns and Parente (2003), most of the students were motivated to do their homework and given support and advice about their future careers by their families. The authors gave the example of a student who explained that although their house had a lack of room and quiet spaces for study, the family had helped out. Paula, a student said: "It's quiet, 'cause my sisters know when I need to study and they always go and play in the back lanes and stuff" (p. 7). In addition, Indigenous students emphasized that their parents always thought about education and provided strong support for them to complete their schooling.

To be clear, for the successful Indigenous students, their families were powerful in providing critical support for their job aspirations and their ongoing schooling. The families' support was very important because in spite of a general lack of success in their parents' own school lives, parents still encouraged them and valued their schooling. In short, the family situations of all the Indigenous students were similarly varied but with common themes of support for their education and wanting them to have opportunities for the future, and cultural support here was crucial for their staying on at school (Munns & Parente, 2003).

National Literature Review

School Attrition.

School is a very important influence in facilitating the future of most young people. Therefore, the school environment is one of the significant factors leading students to leave or remain at school until they complete upper secondary education.

Family factors.

As can be seen below, family conditions are one of the key factors influencing most young students to leave school early. As a report by Boulet and Kunthea (2009) makes clear, in case of helping a family, some young students have to serve their families by working rather than by becoming educated adults. "Parents don't understand the importance of education, and they don't see any immediate gains from it," said Theavy, NGO Education Partnership's (NEP) education and capacity building officer.

Similarly, based on a report written by an administrator, Than argued that poverty is also a significant issue which causes students to drop out of school (Administrator, 2006). Parents are poor, and they cannot support their children to study. Some children are living in difficult conditions, therefore, they have to stop studying and make money to support their families. "Dropouts are caused by many things". "Some families are poor and cannot afford for their children even to start lessons, some allow their children to start school but then stop them studying as they need the children to work" (p. 2), said Than (Administrator, 2006).

School factors.

The term "school environment" refers to everything in school such as students, teachers, class size, curriculum, study facilities, and teaching and learning performances. Because the curriculum and school are sometimes not interesting, some students decide not to continue to upper education. Sometimes, the lessons that schools include in the curriculum are too hard, and students find it hard to understand and spend long time studying these subjects. Some subjects they study are not relevant to their needs in their real life. Additionally, the resources are not updated, and the information in the books is also old (NEP, 2008).

Furthermore, the teacher's salary also influences student retention. For instance, in order to support their family teachers have to collect informal fees during classes by selling lesson paper to students. "If I don't buy them, I will get a low score or I will not pass the exam, even though I am an outstanding student," said one student at Chatomuk secondary school (Boulet & Kunthea, 2009).

Student Retention.

Family factors.

Family support is a very influential in helping students remain at school. So the relationship between school and parents is really important so that parents and schools help each other. Therefore, in order to do this effectively, the MoESY wants a structure called "School Support Committee" or "Parent Teacher Association" or "Parent Association" to be established in each school in Cambodia. In this policy, parents have the opportunity to get involved with every school issue and they understand the necessity of real parental involvement in education. There are other ways too that parents can help their children learning. Parents can meet teachers regularly, help children with their homework, and make sure that students are always at school. More importantly, parents whose children attend school regularly but who are still at risk of repeating or dropping out can participate in parent-teacher meetings. This is an important way to retain students to stay longer at school (Bredenberg, 2002).

School factors.

School is a place to educate young people, but it can be enjoyable or boring place to stay at. To help schools be a happy place to study, for increasing enrolment of students and grade improvements, for reduction of dropout and absence rates, the MoEYS introduced a policy called the "Child Friendly School" in 2007. There are six dimensions in this policy: all children have access to schooling; effective learning, health, safety and protection of children, gender responsiveness; the participation of children, families and communities in the running of their local school; and the national educational system support and encouragement for schools to become more child-friendly. It means that every child has the same right to go to school, teaching and learning must be developed, all children are taken care of and healthy, families and communities of their roles and responsibilities, schools become community-support resource centers, and the quality of education is be improved nationally (Bunlay, Wright, Sophea, Bredenburg & Singh, 2010)

The only comprehensive research done in Cambodia on child friendly schools has focused on primary schools. However, many of the factors affecting primary school students are also relevant to high school students. In this research, Kheang (n.d) had identified some important factors which are relevant to secondary school such as teacher performance, learning and teaching activities, students' competencies and needs, and groups or peers working together and student performances. Moreover, he expressed that the developing teaching methodology, evaluating the results from student, teachers and school, managing and leadership for school activities have remarkably increased (Kheang, n.d).

94.25 % of schools have implemented child centered teaching with 67.76% of teachers extending content of lessons to meet the needs of students in local context, 82.96% of teachers have prepared the learning/teaching, 79.06% of teachers provide homework to students, 57.91% of the teachers link learning/teaching activities to the library (Kheang, p. 2).

Chapter 3


In this research I will use a questionnaire and focus groups to collect data. In this research, I plan to use a questionnaire administered to grade nine students as a lead-up to another questionnaire and focus groups for grade ten students. There will be about 80 of grade nine students to take part in the questionnaire and two focus groups of about six students. In PPHS, there are around 60 students in each class, and the researcher will conduct the questionnaire in two classes. The students' achievements in these classes are not the same because some of them are good and the others are poor.

In this chapter the method of sampling will be described as well as their limitations, strengths, and weakness. The main issues that arise through using these methods will be described with an outline of the steps taken to address the factors identified.

Strengths and limitations of research methods.

Data will be collected using two different methods, paper questionnaires and, small focus group interviews. Questionnaires and focus groups are used because they are convenient and economical and can offer anonymity for the participants. No student will be made to participate in the research project and it will be clearly explained there is no penalty for not participating. Because the researcher is their own teacher, the participants may be fearful or feel shy. To avoid these possible problems, the researcher will not go into the class. The researcher will ask the class monitor to distribute and collect the questionnaires from the students in order to avoid any sense of pressure. In the method of small focus group interview, the researcher will get richer and clearer information than it is in the questionnaire because the participants feel safe and they can discuss without any worries. To avoid losing or forgetting any responses from the participants, the researcher will use an audio recorder during the small focus group interview.

The limitation of questionnaire is that the time is likely to be short and some of the participants will not understand the questions well and they have no time to ask questions. As a result, the researcher might get some negative reactions. A limitation of a small focus group interview is that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed because it is a small focus group interview and although the participants will be encouraged to keep everything confidential all what is said in the interview and the actions of participants outside the group cannot be assured.

Another limitation is that I am the first-time researcher and so I will be learning as I go. I will not have the wisdom which comes from experience and I will make more mistakes.

Strengths and limitations of sampling techniques.

About eighty of male and female students in grade nine in a secondary school in Phnom Penh will be provided with a questionnaire by the researcher and invited to complete it. After completing the questionnaires over one or two days, about ten per cent of them will be re-invited to participate in small focus group interview. Further, the same participants will be invited again when they progress to grade ten. In this method, the researcher will choose the purposive sampling for data collection. The strength of the purposive sampling is that sample selection is based on the researcher's knowledge and experience of the group to be sampled using clear criteria to guide the process. However, the purposive sampling also has its limitation in the researcher's criteria and resulting sample selection.

The limitations of this method of purposive sampling are that the sample will be from only the volunteer students at grade nine and ten. The volunteer participants may not represent the experiences of all male and female students. Those who do not volunteer may have different views but without their participation their experiences will be unknown.

Ethical Issues

Although the author plans to use over 30 sub-factors in the questionnaire and over 80 students to collect the data, some ethical issues are involved. As has already been explained, approval is needed from the school principal and the teachers in the classes and also agreement will need to be sought from students. The students may feel pressure from their teachers, administrators, and directors, but the researcher will do everything possible to ensure that the students are not pressured to volunteer.

Data Collection Procedures

In this paper, the researcher will use a letter of explanation, questionnaires, recorder, and classrooms for collecting the data. First, the researcher will contact to the school director, and secondly talk with the administrators to check the number of student retention and attrition in grade nine and ten. At the same time, he will arrange an appointment with the administrative staff and he will explain the purpose of study in order to conduct the study and gaining access to information on the enrolled numbers of grade nine and ten students in PPHS. After that, the researcher will meet some class teachers to explain the purpose of the study and ask for their permission and cooperation. Cooperation from the school will help the researcher conduct the study and address issues of informed consent at a systems level. Students who are interested in participating in a small focus group interview will indicate their interest using the Invitation attached to the questionnaire. The researcher will contact the students who have provided their contact details and provide them and their parents with a copy of the Information and Consent Forms for parents and for participants. The process of this method will be conducted in two steps. The first step will be conducted when the participants are studying in grade nine, and the second one is when they pursue to grade ten. I mean that the students who will participate in the focus group interview are only for grade ten students from the questionnaire ones.

The limitation of using one school from one area will be the limited generalizability of the findings being collected from one school in Phnom Penh city and not for the whole country. This study will focus only on the reasons why students give for deciding to progress from grade nine to grade ten in a public secondary school in Phnom Penh. Although the issues are linked, no attempt will be made to discover reasons for student attrition.

In addition, as the students know and respect the teacher who will be giving out the questionnaire, they might give the answers that will satisfy their teacher. Therefore, the information is likely to be slightly biased.

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