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According to the National Plan (2003-2015) (2003) of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Education for All (EFA) is the first critical and inevitable step for improving the human resource base as part of enhancing Cambodia's economic competitiveness in an increasingly global and regional economy. Driven by a number of development planning initiatives by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the establishment of EFA, which was approved by the Royal Government of Cambodia in 2002, came into effect. In addition, the National Plan emphasizes that, to develop the country's economy, Cambodia need to ensure nationwide basic education since the Government firmly believes EFA is the first and inevitable mechanism for Cambodia to reach its own Socio Economic Development Plan (SEDP) II by means of equalizing educational access among its both advantaged and disadvantaged children. This EFA plan is also encouraged by the ongoing Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan (PRSP) of 2002, which aims at poverty reduction in Cambodia since the Government found that it has been the main trap substantially contributing to poor students' dropouts in the field of Basic Education in Cambodia. A paper by United Nations Children's Fun (UNICEF) (2007), which outlined the universal primary education by targeting reaching the unreached in Cambodia, emphasizes that, to ensure EFA in Cambodia, it is inevitably necessary to ensure correlation between both supply and demand-driven factors since the two factors are inseparable, intertwined tow-side effect.
This research, conducted by means of literature review from several sources, aims to answer the following questions:
What are these demand-side and supply-side which may prevent poor children from staying in school?
What does the Cambodian Government do to reduce the influence of these factors on drop-out?
The following are the illustrations over the above research problem, which chronologically includes the present situation of drop-out in basic education in Cambodia, both supply-side and demand-side factors which may prevent poor children from staying in school, and the Cambodian Government's solution in reducing the influence of these factors on drop-out.
Present Situation of Drop-out in Basic Education in Cambodia
In a report by World Bank (2005), dropout rates peak in the transition for primary to lower secondary school and remain high throughout this level of schooling. Thus, while most children spend some time in primary school, a significant proportion of them drop out before completing it. The report shows that there are many reasons why students drop out of school. However, among those reasons, poverty seems to be the most influential. The Table below is the illustration by Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS)/United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2000) on different reasons why students in basic education dropped out of school:
Needed at home
Distance to school
Schooling is not useful
Source: MoEYS/UNESCO (2000)
As can be seen from the table, the two most common reasons for children dropping out of school is the inability of parents to afford school fees and the opportunity cost of sending children to school. In other words, poverty is the main obstacle. The bottleneck in the basic education system starts in the upper primary education levels. It is worth noting the significant discrepancy between the proportion of children reaching the last grade of primary education and the first grade of lower secondary education and the proportion of children actually completing these grades. Since 2001, primary school fees were abolished and thus a major obstacle to enrolment was removed. However, secondary school education is not free and this perhaps explains the high drop-out rate during the transition period from primary to secondary education. Households that cannot afford tuition have no choice but to withdraw their children once they reach secondary school. The same statement by both MoEYS and UNESCO (2000) illustrates that there has been no corresponding decrease in drop-out rates while there has been considerable progress in increasing primary enrollment rates. This means that, while increasing numbers of children are entering the school system and pending some time there, a significant proportion either drop-out or fail to enroll in secondary school. Thus, the recent gain in primary net enrollment rates is due to a net gain in the proportion of children that enter school, most of whom are over age, rather than children staying longer in school. A severe bottleneck in the basic education sector begins in upper primary education. While most children spend some time in primary school, significant numbers drop out before completing the primary school cycle. This decline in participation through the years of basic education is particularly severe among children from households in the poorest two wealth quintiles.
A statement by UNICEF (2007) identifies three main supply-side factors, which prevent poor children from staying in school, namely inadequate public expenditure on primary education, high pupil-teacher ratio, and incomplete school infrastructure. The report shows that, despite basic education has been allocated 80 to 84 percent of total education budget in Cambodia, addressing the issue of inadequate public expenditure is still a problem, which additionally involves resolving issues of distance from school, school infrastructure and facilities, and numbers and training of teachers, particularly for access to primary education in remote, rural areas and poor provinces. The explanation, moreover, emphasizes that "â€¦though investment in education has helped to increase the net enrolment rate in Cambodia by over 20 percent over the period 1997 to 2004, a substantial number of children still denied education opportunitiesâ€¦" (UNICEF, 2007, p. 8). In addition, high pupil-teacher ration is also a problem. "Pupil-teacher rations in schools in the poorest 300 communes averaged as much as 79 pupils per teacher compared with 46 in schools in the richest 300 communes" (World Bank, 2006, p.101). Another statistics regarding high pupil-teacher ration in primary education shows:
The pupil-teacher ratio in Cambodia does not compare favorably with that of other countries in the regionâ€¦ Cambodia has one of the highest pupil-teacher ratios in the region, between 1.8 to 2.9 times more than other countries. The high pupil-teacher ratio has a direct influence on attendance and learning outcomes, and it particularly affects those children living in underserved areas of the country (UNICEF, 2007, p. 9).
UNICEF (2007), moreover, shows that incomplete school infrastructure also affects pupils' study in schools, especially those living in remote areas and those who cannot afford their daily transportation. The finding proves that, despite to-some-extent improvement in physical infrastructure in basic education in Cambodia, a number of incomplete schools remain still. Those incomplete schools is the main cause of primary school pupils' drop-out since they cannot move upward as those incomplete schools do not provide higher grades for them.
Similarly, a 2004 World Bank particularly pointed out four important factors from supply-side: lack of school readiness, significant number of incomplete primary schools, low quality of teachers, and lack of health-related facilities such as water and latrines and learning facilities such as library. The report posited the roots of pupils' dropouts on poverty trap, saying that:
Poverty is the foremost factor that predisposes children to drop out of school. Poor families are unable to pay the cost of schooling that could be as high of 79 per cent of the per capita non-food expenditure of the poorest 20 per cent of the population. Children's lack of school readiness often a result of malnutrition and lack of preschool experiences is another factor that especially impacts negatively on Grade 1 repetition and drop-out (as cited in UNICEF, 2005, p. 9).
Mainstreaming Inclusive Education Project by Voluntary Service Oversea (VSO) (2006) conducted a small pilot study of a small sample of children (n=32) on primary school dropout in Kampot province, and it provided similar explanation on supply-side factors. One of the reasons was extra costs for school. The research shows that pupils were supposed to pay more for their extra lessons, or they would fail in their study. The second reason was that their homes were distant from schools. The research show that some students spent at least an hour each from home to school and this was the main reason for their school dropouts. The final reason in the findings was teachers' behavior. The report emphasized that corporal punishment, according to 25% of the children, continues to prevail in school and was a factor that discouraged some of them from attending school. Children described being hit with a stick the width of a thumb "usually on the back, sometimes on the hand." The above-mentioned issues found in Kampot province, to some extent, can be generalized as the more or less common reasons why students in primary schools in Cambodia drop out of schools.
In the working papers by UNICEF (2007) on Universal Primary Education: Reaching the Unreached, demand-side explains three factors as the reasons for students dropouts, namely poverty, geography and ethnicity. Firstly, poverty is very likely to be the most influential aspect. Without even food to eat for their daily survival, children are required to work by their family. According to the Cambodia Child Labor Survey, about half of all children aged 7 to 14 years in Cambodia were economically active in 2001, which is much higher than other countries with similar income level (ILO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2006). "Together with the demand of substantial domestic work, this economic activity delays the probability that a child would begin primary school by the official school entry age of six" (UNICEF, 2007, p. 10). In the same statement, UNICEF (2007) found that costs of child schooling is the issue. Since cost of basic education-both direct and indirect-is high in Cambodia, poor students find it challenging to stay in school, but considering dropout might be the better choice. Poverty is also the main cause of poor students' late entry into primary school. World Bank (2005b) has found that "Children in Cambodia enter school substantially later than the official school enrolment age of six, averaging 7.6 years as of 2001," (as cited in UNICEF, 2007, p. 11). Thus, this delayed departure in school seems to be a severe discouragement in continuing their study and also the explanation on why poor students decide to drop out of school. Secondly, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (2006) showed geography seriously affects poor students' study in terms of not only remoteness but also school conditions. Students whose means of transportation is not affordable have to go to school on food for long distance. At the same time, the school conditions in remote areas are usually much worse than those in the urban areas. With no longer tolerance to this regular situation, most poor students choose to quit school (as cited in UNICEF, 2007, p. 13). Thirdly, the report by UNICEF (2007) illustrates that ethnic minorities mostly live in rural areas. These indigenous people do not really intend to stay in school since study can help them with almost nothing. Thus, dropout would be their better way.
Despite some factors from supply-side factors, the same pilot study by VSO (2006) identifies four factors from demand-side as the reasons why students drop out of schools, namely need for children to work, lack of personal resources, lack of confidence and illness. Need for children to work to support their family is usually inevitable for poor children. The finding states that around 25% of the children are supporting their families' livelihoods in some way. In these situations, school is often an extra burden. Children become exhausted and thus unable to concentrate on their study. Consequently, this hard work may prevent them from continuing their school. In addition, ensuring enough resources for their study is also the issue. Approximately 12.5% of the children in Kampot province are found unable to afford books or pens, so they cannot take part in lessons. Even though this reason is not given as a main reason for dropping out, but it is at least in conjunction with other reasons. Moreover, lack of confidence partly affects the students' study. 9% of the children dropped out as the result of their own poor performance in school. This led them to dissolution in their own abilities. With lack of self-confidence in mind, students are more likely to quit school. Among those reasons, illness is another. Even though it is a rare case, but students are more likely to quit when they are seriously ill. This VSO's pilot study, even though it was conducted in a small context, can be used as a reliable and representative indicator reflecting the general situation of the students' dropout in Cambodia.
To deal with this burning dropout issue, the Royal Government of Cambodia, with Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports as executive mechanism, needs to ensure effective implementation for the following tasks. UNICEF (2005) emphasizes that the MoEYS first needs to implement and guarantee that all Cambodian children, especially the poor, are given equal opportunity to get quality education and to achieve equitable access to education. Second, the MoEYS also needs to strive to provide more opportunities for vulnerable groups to get mine years of basic education. To achieve these two main objectives, the MoEYS has outlined some important, relevant strategies in ESP/ESSP. These include abolition of the cost barrier to basic education and other illegal acts by means of first making enrolment campaign effective; second providing to the demand and scholarship for secondary education, mainly for those poor and vulnerable children; third eliminating incomplete primary schools by building additional classrooms and more lower secondary schools in underserved areas; four proving school operational budget; fifth reducing repetition and drop-out mainly in Grade 1 to 6; sixth providing more opportunities for children out of school to re-entry; seventh creating programs for out-of-school youth to get equal education; eighth expanding literacy programs for adult; and finally trying to recruit teachers from remote and ethnic minority area.
In a more detailed explanation by EFA (2003), to deal with these long-lasting, hanging-around issues, the Royal Government of Cambodia has introduced a number of strategic plans, in which some are in the process of implementation while some are the future plans. First, it was necessary for the Government to establish both "Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan (PRSP) and Socio Economic Development Plan (SEDPII)" since the Government believes that long-term EFA sustainability, especially to assist the poor or other disadvantaged students, will never be ensured without these two plans (EFA, 2003, p. 19). In another broader context, almost comprehensive education reform has to be implemented with thorough emphasis on following key milestones 2000/2002:
"Design and implementation of PAP for primary education, focusing on reducing cost burden on the poor and promotion of improved internal efficiency in early 2000.
Formulation of preliminary education policy and strategic framework, as part of interim PRSP in mid-2000.
MoEYS hosting of Government, donors and NGO seminars on international experiences of sector wide approach to education reform in mid/late 2000.
Formal agreement to education partnership principles by MoEYS, donors, NGO consultative group in early 2001, alongside revitalization of donor education sector w0rking group.
Joint review and appraisal of ESP and ESSP, culminating in joint ESSP appraisal report and collaborative forward plan and high level education round table in mid 2001.
Design and implementation of mixed modality education sector support program and complementary capacity building assistance program by key donor allies in early 2002.
MoEYS and donors/NGO preparation of poverty impact, sector performance, revised ESSP and donors/NGO report as part of first ESSP performance review in late 2002.
Formulation of preliminary PRSP and MTEF, drawing on the policy and strategic directions set out in the revised ESSP 2002/6 in late 2002" (EFA, 2003, pp. 19-20).
If implemented effectively, these milestones would definitely help reduce that great amount of drop-out rates in Basic Education.
With detailed elaboration in response to the above research questions, brief conclusion can be drawn as the following. Despite different reasons, which contribute to students' dropouts in Basic Education, poverty seems to be the most influential factor. A number of literature reviews have figured out that most students who dropped out of school are those who are affected by financial crisis. However, dropout is also affected by supply-side factors, namely inadequate public expenditure on primary education, high pupil-teacher ratio, incomplete school infrastructure, low quality of teachers, and lack of school facilities. To handle this burning issue, the Royal Government of Cambodia should do four prioritized tasks: equalizing basic educational access to all students, providing more opportunities to vulnerable groups, establishing Poverty Reduction Strategic Plan (PRSP), and developing Socio Economic Development Plan (SEDPII). With all the tasks successfully accomplished, drop-out rate is expected to decrease accordingly.