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According to the National Plan for 2003-2015 (2003) of the Royal Government of Cambodia, Education for All (EFA) is the first critical and inevitable step for improving and sharpening human resources, which are necessarily needed for 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 needs to ensure its own nationwide basic education, primary and lower secondary education, since the Government firmly believes EFA is the first and inevitable mechanism for Cambodia to reach its own Socio Economic Development Plan II (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 Cambodia Basic Education. 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 Cambodia Basic Education
With necessary involvement in their family's economic activities, Cambodian students in basic education usually face late school entry and early school dropout (ILO, UNICEF, 2006). The same research by ILO and UNICEF (2006) also explains that about 16 percent of Cambodian children are already active in their family's economic work at the age of six while over half of them are involved at the age of 10. Thus, children involvement in economic activities exceeds that in school by the age of 15. In this sense, most of them just study exclusively, so they consider dropout.
A report by World Bank (2005) shows that dropout rate becomes the highest during the students' transition from primary schools to lower secondary schools. While the students are doing their basic education, some of them choose to drop out of school without even completing it. The report, moreover, identifies many reasons of dropout, in which poverty seems to be the most influential (as cited World Food Programme, 2007). The table below is the illustration by MoEYS/UNESCO (2000), and NPRS (2005) on different reasons why students in Cambodia basic education drop out of school:
Needed at home
Distance to school
Schooling is not useful
Source: MoEYS/UNESCO (2000)/NPRS (2005) (as cited in World Food Programme, 2007, p. 5)
According to the table above, MoEYS/UNESCO (2000)/NPRS (2005) shows that poverty is the most influential factor preventing students from going to school and hence causing them to drop out. It also shows a great difference in the number of students who reach the last grade in primary schools and the proportion of students who continue their study to lower secondary schools. The report moreover explains that, despite the abolition of primary school fees, the secondary schools' fees are not free. Thus, perhaps these are the reasons why students decide to drop out of school during the period of their transition from primary to lower secondary school since their parents or families cannot afford their continuing education. The same finding by MoEYS/UNESCO (2000) and NPRS (2005) illustrates that, despite increasing proportion of students going to primary schools, there are still a large number of students dropping out of schools or not enrolling for their continuing education in lower secondary schools (as cited in World Food Programme, 2007).
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, even though 80 to 84 percent of total Cambodian education budget has been allocated to basic education, addressing the issue of inadequate public expenditure is still a problem, which additionally involves resolving issues of distance from school, facilities and infrastructure of school, and teachers' training and numbers, particularly for access to primary schools in remote and rural areas. The explanation, moreover, emphasizes "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 ratio is also a problem. "Pupil-teacher ratio 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 ratio 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 who mainly live in remote areas and those who cannot afford their daily transportation. The finding proves that, despite to-some-extent improvement in structural 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 can not provide higher grades for them.
Similarly, a 2004 World Bank report particularly points out four important factors from supply-side: insufficient school readiness, a large number of incomplete primary schools, low quality of teachers, and inadequate health care facilities, namely water and latrines and such learning facilities 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 is extra costs for school. The research shows that pupils are supposed to pay more for their extra lessons, or they would fail in their study. The second reason is that their homes are distant from schools. The research show that some students spend at least an hour each from home to school and this is the main reason for their school dropouts. The final reason in the findings is teachers' behavior. The report emphasizes that physical punishment, according to 25% of the children, continues to exist in school and is a factor that discourages some of them not to attend school (VSO, 2006).
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. Cambodia Child Labor Survey emphasizes that around 50% of all children in Cambodia, aged from 7 to 14, were much more actively involved in economic assistance in 2001 if compared with other with-similar-income countries (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 a 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 start in school seems to be a severe discouragement in their academic continuation and it hence appears to be the explanation about why poor students decide to drop out of school. Secondly, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (2006) shows geographical location 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). Thirdly, the report by UNICEF (2007) illustrates that ethnic minorities mostly live in rural areas, and they hence do not really intend to stay in school since study can help them with almost nothing. Thus, dropout would be their better way.
In addition, the same pilot study by VSO (2006) also 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 mostly inevitable for poor children in Cambodia. The finding states that around 25% are required to help their families with any necessary works. The report adds, "in these situations, school is often an extra burden. Children become exhausted and thus unable to concentrate on their study" (VSO, 2006, p. 16). Consequently, this hard work may prevent them from going to school. In addition, ensuring enough resources for their study is also the issue. "Similarly, 12.5% of the interviewed children [n=32] 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" (VSO, 2006, p. 17). VSO (2006) adds that lack of confidence partly affects the students' study. 9% of those children dropped out as the result of their own poor performance in school. With lack of self-confidence in mind, students are more likely to quit school. The explanation adds that, of those reasons, illness is another since, even though it is a rare case, students are more likely to quit school when they are seriously ill.
To deal with this 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 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).
With detailed elaboration in response to the above research questions, brief conclusion on dropout reasons in Cambodia basic education can been seen as an interrelated factors between both demand-side and supply-side, which need necessary solutions from the government. In supply-side factor, dropout is affected by five main reasons, namely inadequate public expenditure on primary education, high pupil-teacher ratio, incomplete school infrastructure, low quality of teachers, and lack of school facilities, which are mostly the responsibilities of the government. Likewise, demand-side factors are also the case, in which students inevitably face several challenges: poverty, geography, ethnicity, need for children to work, lack of personal resources, lack of confidence, and illness. Of all the reasons from demand-side, poverty seems to be the most visible reason in the students' dropout. As can be see in the above literature reviews, their family's financial crisis is the most influential barrier which causes their late school entry and ignorance. With these challenges, students seem to have less motivation in their study, and they hence end up with dropping out of school. To handle this 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.