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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 11, no. 48 (December 18, 2003).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c December 18, 2003
Basic education in Cambodia : the impact of UNESCO on policies in the 1990s / Sideth S. Dy [and] Akira Ninomiya.
x Research
v Periodicals.
2 710
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
1 773
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
4 856


1 of 20 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass College of Education Arizona State University Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES EPAA is a project of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education Volume 11 Number 48December 18, 2003ISSN 1068-2341Basic Education in Cambodia: The Impact of UNESCO on Policies in the 1990s Sideth S. Dy Hiroshima University Akira Ninomiya Hiroshima UniversityCitation: Dy, S. S., and Ninomiya, A. (2003, Decemb er 18). Basic Education in Cambodia: The impact of UNESCO on policies in the 1990s, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11 (48). Retrieved [Date] from 48/.AbstractEfforts to enhance opportunities for Basic Educatio n have been growing within many developing nations after the199 0 World Conference on Education For All (WCEFA) in Jomtien, Thailand. In the face of political turmoil, financial constra int and social insecurity, Cambodia with the encouragement and ass istance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cul tural Organization (UNESCO), took measures to increase ed ucational opportunities for all her citizens through Basic Ed ucation strategic plans and pledged to eradicate illiteracy by the ye ar 2000. This article examines the joint efforts during the 1990 s of this organization as a key assistance and support UN age ncy for


2 of 20 educational policy and strategy formulations, and t he Cambodian government as a national agency for educational ini tiatives and implementation. UNESCO’s inputs for policy implemen tation are also detailed to evaluate the overall impact of the organization during the last decade. Analyses are based primaril y on interviews with some key government policymakers, f ieldwork observation and interviews with school-aged childre n, several speeches of top government officials, and existing related official education statistics and indicators in Cambodia.IntroductionUNESCO’s conceptual framework of Basic Education ha s been receiving remarkable policy attention in many developing coun tries over the last decade. Interest has been fueled by extensive participation in the 1990 WCEFA and increasing ratifications of the Convention on the R ights of the Child (CRC) in the early 1990s. Those developing nations, including Ca mbodia, have recognized the rights of children to education on the basis o f equal educational opportunity and also taken measures to make primary education c ompulsory, free and accessible to all (Article 28 of the CRC). Subscrib ing nations also pledged that all their poor children would have gained access to quality primary education by the turn of the century.After the 1990 WCEFA, UN agencies, international or ganizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) diversified t heir support programs and activities to facilitate and assist least developed nations to achieve the EFA goal by the year 2000. This world community carries a ke y responsibility for alleviating the constraints that prevent some count ries from achieving the goal of EFA (Windham, 1992).However, at the 2000 World Education Forum (WEF) in Dakar, a large majority of the 1990 WCEFA participants conceded failure, de spite the decline in the world illiteracy population from over 900 million i n 1990 to less than 800 million, and despite the fact that more children than ever g ained access to primary schooling. The 2000 WEF participants eventually vow ed to redouble efforts to achieve Basic Education for all by the year 2015.Accordingly, this “simple yet profound goal” was de scribed by Sperling (2001, pp. 7) as adding to the existing “crowded graveyard of overly ambitious developmental goals.” Sperling (2001) warned that w hile the provision of basic education can produce significant gains in income a nd lifestyle, the achievement should really be seen as a starting poi nt rather than an end goal. Sperling (2001) suggested, “The most likely way to achieve universal education by 2015 is through a clear framework for collective action that outlines appropriate and realistic roles and responsibilitie s for donor countries, recipient countries and multilateral institutions” (p.9). Man y Cambodian educational leaders believe that they must spare no effort to g ive all Cambodians education of acceptable quality.Cambodia was still at war when it participated in t he 1990 WCEFA. A Peace Accord was signed in Paris by all the warring facti ons considering national


3 of 20 reconciliation in 1991 with the assistance of the i nternational community to put war to an end. Since then, Cambodia has opened itse lf to the world and called for outside assistance. These ground breaking chang es led to a general election organized and supervised by the UN in 1993 to establish a democratic government. Cambodia was seen as vulnerable in the eyes of the international community. The World Red Cross, The World Health Or ganization, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organiza tions and donors came in to help rebuild the broken socioeconomic system. UN ESCO in particular was exceptionally active and played a key role in provi ding consultation and supporting reform of the education system in Cambod ia as early as 1990. Doing so has required working closely with the central go vernments, both pre-election and post-election, in formulating policies for educ ational development. According to the socioeconomic circumstances of the early 1990s and recalling that Cambodia was then in a stage of national rehab ilitation, Basic Education was focused on primary education and adult educatio n with the primary aim of enhancing the achievement of literacy and numeracy (Hun Sen, 1991). Basic Education subsequently was extended to nine years o f formal schooling composed of primary and expanded to lower secondary education. The main goal of this new policy was to achieve “functional literacy” and construct a foundation for vocational and technical trainings, and for higher learning (MoEYS, 1999, pp.14). In recognition of this fact, the Cambodian government has been taking steps to alleviate widespread pover ty and has striven to eradicate illiteracy and improve access to quality basic education (Tol Lah, 1997).The principal aims of this article are (1) to revie w educational policies and strategies formulated and implemented in the 1990s; (2) to examine the main contributions of UNESCO and the impact on Basic Edu cation expansion; and (3) to identify and explain the successes and failu res of the Basic Education developments during the 1990s. This study is, in or der to understand the educational policy and development in Cambodia, der ived from interviews with national EFA experts and keynote speeches of top go vernment officials. For further understanding and to crosscheck what was he ard or written, fieldwork observations and interviews were conducted in five rural provinces of Cambodia with over a hundred children, three local authoriti es and parents in July-August 2001.Understanding Cambodia: Its Regimes and Their Polic ies on EducationCambodia (sometimes known as Khmer or Kampuchea) ma y not be known worldwide and is sometimes forgotten by or isolated from the international community. Its present condition is deeply rooted i n its past magnificence and sufferings. Those who fail to understand the histor y of Cambodia may find its current situation confusing or incomprehensible. Th is section traces the pivotal periods from pre-French colonialism (before 1863), French colonial era (1863-1953), post-French colonialism or the first K ingdom of Cambodia known as Sihanouk regime (1953-1970), political turmoil o f Lon Nol regime or the Khmer Republic (1970-1975), genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pol regime (1975-1979), to the Vietnamese occupation p eriod or Heng Samrin


4 of 20 regime (1979-1989). It concludes with a discussion of the regime of the State of Cambodia as a transitional period from the collapse of Soviet Union to the UN organized general election (1989-1993) and the post general election period or as the second Kingdom of Cambodia (1993-present).The history of Cambodia dates back thousands of yea rs (Chandler, 1988). Cambodian (Khmer) people were among the first in A sia to adopt religious ideas and political institutions, presumably from I ndia, and to create a centralized kingdom occupying large territories wit h comparatively sophisticated culture (Chandler, 1998; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 001). Since the Khmer people immersed themselves in Buddhism around the t welfth century, the teaching of Buddhist principles was institutionaliz ed and "basic literacy" was needed for religious leaders to circulate religious concepts and to help lead civil society. Buddhist temple schools were established a nd open for boys and young men, where they could learn moral ethics, lit eracy and some Buddhist advice about life. The schools have competently pro vided only “primary education” (Bit, 1991, pp. 50) to boys since they h ad to stay in the temple or serve as monks.The teachers were volunteer Buddhist men (monks— sangha or achaj ). This practice was seen as early as the seventh century ( Chandler, 1988). This Buddhist or traditional education system reached th e highest level known as banddhit or highest learning as noted by Chou, a Chinese envoy to Angkor (former Cambodian capital) during 1296-1297 when Ca mbodia was known as the Khmer Empire from the ninth to the fourteenth c enturies (Chou, 1953). The decline of Angkor supremacy in around the mid-fifte enth century caused a collapse of this nationwide traditional schooling s ystem and a good deal of knowledge was nowhere to be found (Chandler, 1998; Prasertsri, 1996). It is hard to see the Khmer regime’s strong commitment to any policy of education in the pre-colonial period from the sixteenth to the n ineteenth centuries. Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863. Bit (1991) noted that under the French protectorate a limited public school sys tem and only few private schools prepared the elite and higher education was possible only through study abroad. On the other hand, it was noted that tertiary education was first introduced in Cambodia in the late 1940s, namely a Faculty of Law (Sloper, 1999).For the first twenty years of their protectorate, C handler (1991) found that the French did little to interfere with traditional pol itics even neglecting educational development in Cambodia. In the early twentieth cen tury, the colonial administration began to “modernize” the traditional school system by integrating it with the French schooling system, seeing Cambod ia’s progress in improved agricultural production as serving France’s colonia l power. However, Chandler (1998) commented, “before the 1930s the French spen t almost nothing on education in Cambodia” (p.156). The French were rel uctant to enhance education because education would empower Cambodia ns and loosen France’s hold on the colony (Clayton, 1995). Clayto n (1995, p.2) with other scholars even argued that “the French purposefully withheld education from Cambodians in order first to consolidate and then t o maintain power – French schools did indeed fail to enroll significant numbe rs of Cambodians until late in


5 of 20 the colonial period.”Many scholars see the modernization of the traditio nal education system and the integration of the French-oriented curriculum i nto the traditional Khmer curriculum as a French socioeconomic exploitation ( Kierman, 1985, p. xiii as quoted by Clayton, 1995): There were 160 modern [that is controlled by the Fr ench] primary schools with 10,000 pupils by 1925…but even by 1944 when 80,000 [Cambodians] were attending [some sort of] modern p rimary schools, only about 500 pupils per year completed t heir primary education …by 1944 there were only 1,000 secondarystudents…even by 1953 there were still only 2,700 s econdary students enrolled in eight high schools in Cambodia (p. 6) Such a low investment in modernizing Cambodian educ ation probably resulted in part as well from the traditional Cambodian int ellectuals’, especially the Buddhist monks, resistance to the French attempts t o romanticize Khmer scripts in the 1940s as they had successfully done to the V ietnamese (Chandler, 1998; Osborne, 1969). Seeing that their traditional cultu re of education was on in the verge of collapse caused by the French reform, the Cambodians opposed and even enhanced traditional cultural forms in rural a reas far from the eyes of the French (for discussion see Clayton, 1995).After ninety years under the French colonization fr om 1863 to 1953, the post-independence Cambodia of Sihanouk’s regime fro m 1953 to 1970 promoted increasing schooling opportunities follow ing the French model of a schooling system. This effort continued what the Fr ench had started but accelerated the pace of development. The number of primary and secondary schools increased rapidly, especially by the end of Sihanouk regime (Bit, 1991). Education extended to the university level. There w ere nine universities in the capital and some provincial cities. By the late 196 0s, Deighton (1971) reported that there were more than one million children enro lled in primary education as compared with about 0.6 million in 1960 and 0.13 mi llion in 1950. From 1950 to 1964, secondary the education enrolment ratio incre ased from 0.04 percent to 17 percent. As further evidence of this increased i nterest and investment in formal education for building a modern and peaceful state, the regime even increased the national budget for education to over twenty percent of the national expenditure by the late 1960s (Deighton, 1 971). However, some other scholars such as Chandler (1998 ), Chandler (1991), Ayres (2000), Ayres (1999) and the present senior e ducation officials commented that the regime had failed to universaliz e basic education and had failed to enhance employment for high school and un iversity graduates. Moreover, Duggan (1996) also criticized the regime as follows: The education system provided by Sihanouk was biase d towards the nation’s largest cities. Rural Cambodia did not ben efit from the selective expansion strategies employed by the Prin ce (Sihanouk) and handsomely built universities did not assist ru ral children and their family’s poverty. (p. 364)


6 of 20 Criticisms were directed toward the regime for not widely enhancing nationwide literacy-oriented education or increasing schooling opportunities for all. The Sihanouk regime marked the greatest advancement of Cambodia in the past few hundred years. Dunnett (1993) celebrated the 19 60s in Cambodia pointing out that it had the highest literacy rates and most progressive education systems in Southeast Asia.The French influence in the educational system and overall administrative systems was still strong in the recent history of C ambodia. The French shadow falls across Cambodian schooling even to the presen t day. It has been noted by senior education officials that one of the causes o f high rates of repeating grades and high dropout rates in Cambodian primary education is the use of the old French-styled classroom management and evaluati on methods. Following the over fifteen years of peace and prosp erity Cambodia under the Sihanouk regime, General Lon Nol backed by the Unit ed States seized control in a diplomatic coup d'tat in 1970 and declared Ca mbodia the Khmer Republic (Chandler, 1991). It was the first time in Cambodia n history that the monarchy was abolished. Almost no reforms ensued, but instea d the country was plunged into civil conflict. The Communist uprising reached its peak from the East and spread fighting in rural areas in early 1970s. As a result, educational opportunities were shut off. The regime was in turm oil and collapsed in 1975 (for a discussion see Chandler, 1991). The socioeco nomic achievements gained in the previous regime soon vanished.Cambodia went down and finally sank to “year zero” in the regime of Democratic Kampuchea known as the Khmer Rouge or Po l Pot regime from 1975 to 1979. The regime changed Cambodia into a re volutionary Maoist communist state. This “great leap” revolutionary re gime of Pol Pot visited mass devastation on this pitiful nation—devastation of i ndividual property, the formal school system, the social culture--and forced the e ntire population either into the army or onto collective farms (Chandler, 1998; Dunnett, 1993). The damage to the infrastructure of education was monumental; Cambodia lost almost three-quarters of its educated population under the regime; teachers, students, professionals and intellectuals were killed or mana ged to escape into exile (ADB, 1996; Prasertsri, 1996). It has been estimate d that about two million of the pre-war Cambodian population of around seven mi llion were killed or died in that genocidal regime.The People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) or Heng Sa mrin regime from 1979 to 1989 started to rebuild the country from the utt er devastation of “year zero.” The regime, which was supported by Vietnam and othe r socialist bloc nations, ruled Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. T he regime’s top priority between 1979 and 1981 was to rebuild educational in stitutions. Generous support from UNICEF and International Red Cross tog ether with the determination to restructure Cambodia by the PRK, s aw about 6,000 educational institutions rebuilt and thousands of t eachers quickly trained (Dunnett, 1993). The regime’s policy on enhancing e ducation was seen thus in an interview with a senior education official who had been involved in basic education and teacher training since 1979:


7 of 20 From 1979-1981 was a period of restructuring and re habilitating of both infrastructure and human resources. The restru cturing and rehabilitation I refer was collecting school-aged c hildren and putting them in school despite the poor condition of the sc hool and even conducting classes in the open air or under the tre es. We appealed to all those teachers and literate people who survi ved to teach the illiterates. We used various slogans such as “going to teach and going to school is nation-loving”and so on. There w ere no licenses or any high requirements for holding a teaching job. W e just tried to open school and literacy classes – we didn’t care a bout quality. In the early 1980s, all levels of schools (from kin dergarten to higher education) were reopened and total enrolment reached almost on e million. Teachers were better trained and quality was gradually emphasized However, it is worth noting that in any primary school about 30 percent of the children had no father, 10 percent had no mother, and between 5 and 10 perc ent were orphans (Postlethwaite, 1988). The political and economic d isturbance haunted Cambodia until the second term of the Royal Governm ent and the complete eradication of the Khmer Rouge’s machinery and orga nization in 1998. Nevertheless, the people of Cambodia still have pri de in their prosperous, powerful and glorious precedents and this pride enc ourages them to dream of another golden age.Current Basic Education Development in CambodiaA transition period from the planned economy of the 1980s to a free market economy in the 1990s has reshaped the aim of the Ca mbodian education system in light of socioeconomic realities. The edu cational trends can be roughly traced through two leadership periods. Pen Navuth, Minister of Education of the then PRK, with multi-lateral suppo rt from the socialist bloc, affirmed in 1985 that the “objective of Cambodia’s education was to serve the then revolutionary socialism of Kampuchea (Cambodia ) and to form new and good, hard-working citizens with good health, techn ical awareness and support for the revolutionary Kampuchea. Schools were to be organized as cultural centers open to all and as a system of defense agai nst enemy propaganda” (Pen Navuth as cited in Ayres, 2000, p. 452).The PRK education system was composed of four years of primary education, three years of lower secondary and three years of u pper secondary education. The 4+3+3 system – according to a current senior ed ucation official of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) who has been involved in restructuring the education system since 1979 – was implemented in response to emergent needs for human resources for national rehabilitation. Under the leadership of Tol Lah, current Minister of MoEYS of the new constitutional Royal Government of Cambodia established after the UN sup ervised general election in May 1993, the objective of the present education system is to “develop the pedagogic, cognitive, mental and physical abilities of learners. It aims at developing among its citizens a sense of self-confi dence, self-reliance, responsibility, solidarity, national unity, patriot ism and culture of peace” (MoEYS, 1999, p.9).


8 of 20 The latter leadership began with educational struct ure rehabilitation and a series of reforms to meet the global standard as a direction of sustainable social and economic development. It was strongly espoused that universalizing basic education could help alleviate poverty (Tol Lah, 19 99). Accordingly, the education system shifted periodically from ten year s of schooling (4+3+3) to eleven years as (5+3+3) and lastly in 1996 reached the common worldwide system of twelve years (6+3+3).As Buchert (1995) observed, the reform of the educa tion system shifted to a predominant concern among international agencies wi th global poverty reduction, in the context of the implementation of EFA. Essentially, Cambodia found itself lost in the middle of nowhere while se eking socioeconomic development in the late 1980s. The UNESCO’s framewo rk in universalizing Basic Education (with its emphasis on achieving pov erty alleviation in the near future) has become a topic of concern at the highes t levels since the late 1990s. The ill-designed education system, incapable manage ment staff, social and political instability and economic depression have all worked a negative effect on educational achievement. There has been much evi dence that there is no greater guarantee of a country’s future than to inv est in education for national development and that Basic Education is key to free ing people from poverty (Tol Lah, 1997). The 1993 Cambodian constitution ma kes a strong commitment of the country to the EFA approach as ac knowledged in Chapter VI, Articles 65 & 68 which stated: The State shall provide free primary and secondary education to all citizens in public schools. Citizens shall receive education for at least nine years. The State shall protect and upgrade cit izens’ rights to quality education at all levels and shall take nece ssary steps for quality education to reach all citizens. Cambodia faces numerous challenges in developing it s Basic Education system to keep abreast with its neighboring countries. The 1991 National Conference on EFA indicateed that in the 1990-91 academic year the number of children enrolled in primary schools was 94 percent in urban areas, 75 percent in rural areas, and 50 percent in remote areas. Growing enro lment and participation are revealed in National Education Statistics and Indic ators: In 1998-99, (a) 59 percent of urban children, 82 percent of the rural children and 97 percent of the remote children failed to attain lower secondary ed ucation; (b) 14.5 percent were unable to survive a full six-year primary educ ation; and (c) the gross enrolment ratio in primary school was 89.7 percent, but downed to 23 percent in lower secondary, and further down to 8.7 percent in upper secondary education (MoEYS, 1996-9).A sequence of political conflicts and civil wars ov er the past two decades crippled the developmental process in education of this poor nation, which mostly affected education in rural and remote areas In the 1998-99 school year, the country had a total of 5,156 primary scho ols, 355 lower secondary and 132 upper-secondary schools. Fifty per-cent of the total number of primary schools mostly found in rural and remote areas did not have a complete range


9 of 20 of grades (grades1-6) for the primary cycle. Childr en who live far away from a school with the complete range of grades find it di fficult to continue learning and many inevitably become dropouts. A senior MoEYS off icial expressed a concern in an interview that “We don’t have enough schools for Basic Education; that is why we did not have a 100 perce nt enrolment rate…many school-age children failed to enroll even though sc hool is free”. According to the parents, local authorities, the pu pils and the dropouts interviewed in rural areas of Cambodia, they compl ained that the school did not comply with the central policy and the school allow ed teachers to charge money for private tutoring and to collect contribut ions from the pupils. Those who could not afford inevitably dropped out. Most c hildren, though given the opportunity, were placed in large classes of around eighty in primary schools. Almost one-third of the teachers are still untraine d. Their salaries are still around twenty American dollars per month, which nec essitates their holding a second job.With annual population growth rate of 2.4 percent, the people’s demands for formal basic schooling are also increasing. The pop ulation growth of an estimated 4 million in 1980 to almost 12 million in 1998 requires a formidable effort from the government, which must reform the e ducation system quickly. In 1998-99, the enrollment rate in primary education f or the whole country wasonly 78 percent. In other words, 22 percent of the popul ation aged 6-11 remains outside schools. The increasing number of dropouts in lower grades is the cause of the high rate of illiteracy. The situation is worse in remote provinces as the net enrolment rate is even lower than 50% (MoEY S, 1996-9).Contributions of UNESCO to Educational Development in CambodiaCambodia became a member of UNESCO in 1951 and the United Nations in 1955. As a consequence of political instability and a series of civil wars between the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO suspended its activitie s and cooperation – and lastly closed its office in Phnom Penh. Vietnam con tinued to hold its troops in Cambodian after it intervened in 1979 to install PR K. Though it had helped to rebuild Cambodia from ashes after it won a war with the Khmer Rouge – the international community and many Cambodians saw thi s as an act of subjugation of Cambodia (for further discussion se e Clayton, 2000). Consequently, the liberal bloc placed economic and political sanctions on the PRK as well as Vietnam. Cambodia could only receiv e assistance from the socialist bloc. The Cambodian armed resistance forc es fought with the Vietnamese army resulting in social unrest in many rural areas. A complete Vietnamese troop withdrawal from Cambodia in 1989 a nd the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later necessitated reforms in Cambodia in almost all sectors to shift from the socialism to a grudging a cceptance of liberal democracy. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the pillar of the socialist bloc, Cambodia found itself without aid from its socialis t donors of the late1980s. Opportunities were very limited since the country w as still under sanctions. The international community prepared to help Cambodia. Shortly after the 1990 WCEFA, UNESCO reopened its office in Phnom Penh in 1991.


10 of 20 As promised at the 1990 EFA Conference, UNESCO, UN ICEF, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank have played an important role in assisting Cambodia in national reconstructi on and rehabilitation. A senior education official pointed out that putting every t hing systematically in order would have been a difficult task without internatio nal assistance and support. The country could not have come to where it is toda y on its own without external assistance. He further explained: After returning from the 1990 WCEFA we organized a national conference on EFA in 1991 with remarkable support b y UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP. The running process and support we obtained urgently in 1991 was from UNESCO. UNESCO has been a ssisting us technically and financially. In order for Cambodia to keep abreast of the health ier developing world, modernization of the overall systems requires skill ed manpower to lead the development process (Ayres, 2000). This underscores the role of education for national rehabilitation. The Cambodian government made an effort to participate in the 1990 WCEFA, and then held its ow n EFA conference the following year. The conference marked the second co nsideration of schooling opportunity and literacy after the first attempt to eliminate illiteracy among the adult population in the early 1980s, an attempt dev oid of support from UNESCO.Owing to the roles of UNESCO and the educational pr oblems in Cambodia in the 1990s, this world education body has assisted a nd supported the national initiatives to achieve the EFA goal (UNESCO, 1993). The organization’s mission in Cambodia has moved forward under the banner “fi ghting poverty by promoting the development of EFA.”.UNESCO began wit h building human resources for the ministry of education and providi ng a new conceptual framework for educational development. It trained 1 ,200 administrative education officials in educational planning and man agement, and has also supported the establishment of the Educational Mana gement Information System Center (UNESCO, 2001).Noting the deficiency in educational statistical da ta and information for the design of educational policies and decision-making, UNESCO has also focused on strengthening the management system. Additionall y, in order to enhance quality basic education, it has guided and supporte d the reform of curriculum for science education and the production of learning/te aching materials. These contributions, such as providing consultation and s upport for local initiatives in terms of improving access and quality of basic educ ation, are acknowledged in several senior government officials’ speeches (Sar Kheng, 2000; Tol Lah, 1999).Even with the many actions that UNESCO has undertak en, the progress of reform in educational management in Cambodia is sti ll slow. Still the number of trained staff is limited in the educational system. However, UNESCO’s contributions were indispensable. Despite the fact that education personnel are equipped with knowledge and skills, substandard ope rational resources and


11 of 20 their low wages (of less than 30 US dollars per mon th) appear to have adverse effects on motivation. The former EFA coordinator r aised the issue that the poor living standard of the staff and lack of resources had reduced their efforts from full commitment in implementing the policies. This mind-set not only reduces the positive impact of UNESCO but also interferes with the achievement of the goal of EFA in Cambodia. It is unquestionable that the u ndernourished and unmotivated workforce is sorely challenged to crea te good results.Characteristics of Cambodian Basic EducationIn Cambodia following the UNESCO’s framework, Basic Education is constitutionally defined as nine years of formal sc hooling, comprising primary and lower secondary education. It aims to contribut e to improvements in the socioeconomic sphere as a whole. According to UNESC O (1998b), “Basic Education” must meet the basic learning needs of al l human beings. These needs comprise literacy, oral expression, numeracy, problem solving and knowledge, as well as the skills, values and attitu des required by an individual to develop and participate in society. Although edu cation is “officially” free of charge in public institutions, practically in the 1 990s all schools required students to pay some maintenance fees. This served to run off thousands of children of the poorest of the poor from enrolment because almost 40 percent of the population in 1997 lived below the poverty line (UNESCO, 1998b). In the Basic Education Social Sector Plan 1996-2000, the g overnment anticipates that nine years of schooling will become compulsory in t he future. The official school age at the primary level is fro m 6 to 11 years. Pupils are advanced through grades 1 to 6 after passing tests at the end of each year. Pupils who fail a grade can repeat only twice durin g the primary cycle. The official school age of lower secondary level is fro m 12 to 14 years. Pupils can only repeat once at this level. The official number of school days in a year is 228 and there are 1,254 sessions. Several studies b y UNESCO note that the grade-to-grade promotion regulation is difficult, and sometimes the criteria are not clearly defined, which results in high repetit ion rates in grade 1 of around 40 percent during the1990s (UNESCO, 1998b). The nat ional examination from primary level to lower secondary level was abolishe d in the late 1990s in order to encourage more participation in secondary educat ion. However, the limited number of secondary schools in rural areas and oppo rtunity costs obstruct opportunities for further schooling (Dy, 2001).Basic Education AttainmentPolicy statements provide a framework for strategic planning. They are subject to change periodically when socioeconomic and polit ical conditions change (UNESCO & UNDP, 1999). Since the nation-wide educat ional statistics and planning mechanism was established in 1996, MoEYS h as systematically formulated education policies and goals in attempts to satisfy the international community, donor countries, the CRC and the 1993 Co nstitution. Its emphasis was put on universalizing nine years of basic educa tion and developing opportunities for functional literacy, and moderniz ing and improving the quality of education through effective reforms.


12 of 20 Policymaking and strategic planning in the early 19 90s have been influenced by several significant and interrelated events such as sequential National Conferences on EFA and the signing of Peace Accords in Paris by Cambodia’s warring factions, the formation of the Internationa l Committee on the Reconstruction of Cambodia, the newly adopted Const itution and a series of National Education Seminars (Ayres, 1999). Although the policies are well designed, the lack of high-quality socioeconomic an d operating cost assessments led some education experts to pronounce the 1990s’ policies “excessively ambitious.” Strategic plans require su fficient budget and excellent staffing management. The current National EFA Coord inator identifies three main factors that make the basic education targets for the year 2000 unattainable: the absence of mechanisms to carry ou t reforms, insufficient funding to put plans into action, and on-going civi l war causing social unrest especially in remote areas.A great deal of effort has been made to achieve bas ic education for all. Cambodia’s ambitious goals included helping a hundr ed percent of school-aged children in urban and some rural areas of geographi cally plain provinces to achieve access to primary education, and eradicatin g illiteracy of all adults by 1995. Without carefully weighing its resources, it set another ambitious goal –that all school-aged children in remote and mounta inous areas should gain access to primary education by the year 2000. An ed ucation ministry official recently noted in an interview that “if it was wor th giving education to our children we had better make it good quality.” Hence the 1991 national conference on EFA did not neglect quality improveme nt. (State of Cambodia, 1991).Quality primary education did not result from the m odest investment of effort and resources. Notwithstanding these government eff orts and even with the help of with significant donor support, several pol icy issues, such as institutional strengthening and quality improvement, remained unr esolved (ADB, 1996). Furthermore, after experiencing a more stable socio -political environment and full international support, the Cambodian governmen t attempted again to mobilize and combine resources, and numerous reform s had been undertaken recently in its educational system. The efforts wer e focused on enhancing quality of learning and teaching, increasing access to basic education, ensuring equity in education services, and increasing effect iveness in planning and management. These efforts have resulted in primary education enrolment increases all over the country (see Table 1), and s uccessful reforms of the educational system, curriculum, data management fac ilities and school management networks.Another critical goal in the second term of the Roy al Government of Cambodia was to achieve an effective balance between quality improvement measures and selective expansion of educational services. Th us, the government reestablished targets for the year 2000 as follows : 1) increase net primary education enrolment to 90 percent ; 2) improve net lower-secondary education enrolment to 85 percent; 3) reduce repetition rates in grades 1 to 6 to below 10 percent; and 4) help 85 percent of first grade stu dents in primary education to complete grade 6. This second period saw an improve ment in educational


13 of 20 opportunities given by the state through additional school buildings, more training for teachers and increased educational awa reness of parents. Further progress is witnessed in growing participation and funding from communities and households amounting to almost 80 percent of to tal expenditure for education (Bray, 1996). However, the low salary of teachers still exists and increases in government funding are slow to occur (see Table 1). In view of its tragic past civil strife, Cambodia h as made progress in expanding schooling opportunities especially at universalizin g primary education and slightly increasing the transition rate from primar y to lower secondary education. Mehrotra (1998) argued that successful “Basic Educa tion” policies and implementations in high EFA achieving countries dep end on state-support basic social services. Cambodia, with a poor social servi ce system particularly in rural areas, is in a situation in which socioeconomic dis parities determine the educational opportunity for quality learning. In te rms of transition rates to lower secondary education, gender equity, and school faci lities, the wealthier households enjoy greater access to quality schoolin g than do disadvantaged families. Consequently, this disproportional provis ion of basic education reveals insufficient state investment in universalizing ed ucational opportunity.Quantity vs. QualityRecent changes in the school system and curriculum reform in Cambodia have contributed to both quantitative expansion and qual itative improvement. Keynote political speeches of Cambodian educational and government leaders stressed the need for nine years of quality basic e ducation for all Cambodians (Tol Lah, 1999; Tol Lah, 2000; Sar Kheng, 1999 & Sa r Kheng, 2000). How they define quality is still uncertain since much of wha t they have accomplished has been mainly in the area of improving accessibility, such as building more schools and recruiting more teachers and paying les s attention to increased funding for the improvement of teaching and learnin g. Through dialogues with some MoEYS senior officials, the concept of “Basic Education” was found to be imprecise and “basic learning needs” too broad and confusing for most educational leaders to act on until they were clari fied in the 2000 WEF. In the early 1990s, major efforts were made to con solidate teacher improvement systems, continue restoration of school buildings and develop systems to supply effective textbooks and teaching aids (ADB, 1996). There are limited education indicators available from the early 1990s. Most of the goals and strategies set at the 1991 National Confe rence on EFA were carried out until 1994 with limited success. Then the educa tional initiatives were reformulated in 1994 in consultation with donors an d technical agencies for the 1995-2000 strategic plan and also the socioeconomic plan for 1996-2000. Victor Ordonez, Director of the UNESCO Principal Re gional Office for Asia and the Pacific (PROAP), stated in his commentary at th e Asia Pacific Conference on EFA Assessment 2000 that: Policy makers are slowly getting over – the sometim es false – dichotomy of quantity versus quality. Under this di chotomy, when budgets are limited, one must often choose between more textbooks and facilities for those already in school (quality ), or additional


14 of 20 buildings and teachers for those not yet in the sys tem (quantity). The drive towards universal primary education in Asia h as tended to favor quantity or expanded access. (Ordonez, 2000, pp. 2) This sentiment was echoed by the former and current officials in charge of EFA in Cambodia. They believed that awareness of the va lue of education and nationwide diffusion could lend support to strength ening the quality of schooling. Reaching all and inviting all to cooperate were the main goals of the 1990s. Another pressing concern is the low level of succes s in producing qualified or adequately skilled candidates for gainful employmen t. This underscores the need to find a workable balance between striving to educate as many as possible, and providing a quality education to thos e who reach graduation. One approach is to take important steps to curb dropout and enhance transition rates.Expanding quantity should be coupled with strengthe ning the quality of the schooling provided. Otherwise, without carefully pl anned programs, quantitative gains could result in qualitative losses (ADB, 1996 ). Through meetings in the late 1990s, “quality improvement” was stressed and prioritized. However, Dunggan (1996) reported that unqualified teachers c onstituted around 80 percent of the active teaching force. One must wond er about the quality of teaching. In comparison with other Southeast Asian nations, the gross secondary education enrolment rate in Cambodia was the lowest (Dy, 2001). It may be concluded that basic education development p rograms, especially those of the late 1990s, affected quality and enrol ment in secondary education. Table 1. Basic Education Indicators in CambodiaAcademic Year 1996-971997-981998-991999-00Expanded Access and Coverage:Gross admission rate 11397.9103.3123.6 Gross primary education enrolment ratio94.5%88.3%89 .7%100.3% Net primary education enrolment ratio84.777.878.385 .5 Gross lower secondary education enrolment ratio30.5 23.723.022.9 Net lower secondary education enrolment ratio23.216 .314.214.4 Girls gross enrollment ratio in primary education86 .481.283.993.3 Girls gross enrollment ratio in lower secondary edu cation22.716.816.116.4Quality Improvement:Literacy rate (15 years old and over)65.9*67.368.7* Repetition rate in primary education2726.324.622.3Transition rate from primary to lower secondary edu cation56.371.974.376.7 Transition rate from lower to upper secondary educa tion33.338.839.456.3Funding:Percentage of national budget for education8.110.38 .310Sources: EMIS Center, Department of Planning, Minis try of Education Youth and Sport, Cambodia. *Minist ry of Planning: 1996 Socioeconomic Survey & 1998 National CensusDiscussion


15 of 20 No country can afford to neglect education since it is the foundation for development and modernization of the state. In reco gnition of this truth, Cambodia has made various attempts to strive for su ccess in basic schooling accessibility and quality. Even in the course of so cial and political instability, Cambodia made significant progress, such as in incr easing number of schools (from 4,665 primary schools in 1990 to 5,274 in 200 0; from 66 upper-secondary schools in 1990 to 140 in 2000) and pupil enrolme nts (1.3 million enrolled in primary in 1990, increased to 2.2 million in 2000, and upper-secondary enrolments of 47,562 in 1990 mounting to 108,213 in 2000). These accomplishments can be credited to the government’s development partners (such as UN agencies, multi and bilateral donors), improved management within the government, and household communities for their assistance and participation. With reference to Ordonez (1997-2001 ), if the spirit of the EFA programs was to get as close to the targets as poss ible, Cambodia almost achieved universal primary education at this end of the decade. Thus, this cooperation with UNESCO along with the existing res ources and aspirations have brought about quantum leaps in educational ach ievement. Future challenges in realizing the UNESCO’s EFA pri nciples demand additional inputs and willpower. Many of the problems entail i nequality of access to quality education, regional disparities, and the vast pover ty of the people of Cambodia. The quality of basic education is deficient, especi ally in rural and remote areas that cover nearly 80 percent of the children to be served. UNESCO’s framework and assistance for Cambodian bas ic education policy and strategy formulations had a great impact on the educational. The primary accomplishments of UNESCO assistance in Cambodia in volved strengthening the statistical management of schooling, strengthen ing working networks and building capability of the staff, establishment of educational data systems, and introduction of a nine-year basic schooling system in the mid 1990s. Accordingly, the weight of UNESCO may be underscore d in long-term efforts of the government of Cambodia to universalize basic ed ucation through enhancement of funding. In other words, the efforts of UNESCO and other organizations in providing consultation and recomme ndations to policymaking and goal shaping have led to building human resourc es and stimulating international aid donors. This effort has establish ed a foundation for policy formulation and fundamental approaches to schooling improvement in the era of change.ConclusionThere remain formidable challenges for Cambodian po licymakers in realizing the 1990 WCEFA’s goals. On the other hand, as demon strated by the above analyses, progress towards these goals with the ess ential presence of UNESCO has been considerable and overall encouragin g. The greater developmental goals are neither too lofty nor too e asily accomplished nor already written in stone. Rather, as the case of UN ESCO in Cambodia, the goals must exhibit both idealism and malleability, changing periodically in light of observable progress and existing realities.


16 of 20 The major success of UNESCO in Cambodia since the 1 990 WCEFA was in advocating basic education for all. The illiteracy rate declined, and more young people were able to go to school than ever before. Though the national budget for education in Cambodia of the 1960s (approximate ly 20 percent) is higher than in the 1990s’(approximately 9 percent), school enrolment is lower. This illustrates that the UNESCO’s EFA conceptual framew ork is effective regardless of limited education expenditures. However, politi cal will and international support along with a growing sense of the value of education among Cambodians have raised participation in schooling.ReferencesADB. (1996). Cambodia: Education sector strategy study Asia Development Bank: Manila. Ayres, D. (1999). Policymaking and policies of educ ation in Cambodia. In D. Sloper (Eds. ), Higher education in Cambodia: The social and educational c ontext for reconstruction (pp. 51-65). UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the P acific: Bangkok. Ayres, D. (2000). Tradition, modernity and the deve lopment of education in Cambodia. Comparative Education Review 44, 440-463. Bit, Seanglim. (1991). The warrior heritage: A psychological perspective o f Cambodian trauma California. Bray, M. (1996). Counting the full cost: Parental and community fina ncing of education in East Asia The World Bank: Washington, DC. Buchert, L. (1995). The concept of education for al l: What has happened after Jomtien? International Review of Education 41 (6): 537-549. Chandler, D. (1988). Cambodia. In The encyclopedia of Asian history (Vol. 1, pp. 219-221). The Asia Society. Chandler, D. P. (1991). The land and people of Cambodia USA, HaperCollinsPublishers. Chandler, D. P. (1998). A history of Cambodia (Rev. ed.). Silkworms book: Chiang Mai. Chou, Ta-kuan. (1953). The custom of Cambodia (3rd ed. ). The Siamese Society System: Bangkok. Clayton, T. (1995). Restriction or resistance? Educ ational development in French colonial Cambodia. Educational Policy Analysis Archives 3 (19), 1-13. Clayton, T. (2000). Education and politics of language: Hegemony and pr agmatism in Cambodia (1979-1989) Comparative Education Research Center: Hong Kong. Duggan, S. J. (1996). Education, teacher training a nd prospects for economic recovery in Cambodia. Comparative Education 32 (3): 361-375 Dunnett, S. C. (1993). Cambodia, overcoming hardshi p, rebuilding its education system. WENR: World Education News & Reviews Spring: vol.6, no.2. pp. 20-23. Deighton, L. C. (1971). Cambodia. In The encyclopedia of education (vol.1 pp. 578-584). Creswell-Collier Educational Corporation. Dy, Sideth. S. (2001, July). Basic education for all in Cambodia: Opportunities for access Paper presented at 11th World Congress of Comparative Edu cation: Chungbuk, South Korea. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2001).Cambodia. 01/01/29 Hun Sen. (1991, September). Closing speech National Conference on Education For All: Phnom


17 of 20 Penh. Mehrotra, S. (1998). Education for all: Policy less ons from high-achieving countries, International Review of Education 44 (5/6): 461-484. MoEYS. (1996-9). Education statistics and indicators : Ministry of Education Youth and Sport: Department of Planning, EMIS Center: Phnom Penh. MoEYS. (1999). Education in Cambodia Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport: Phnom Pen h. Ordonez, V. (1997-2001). Education policy: Educatio n in a region of change. United Nations ESCAP http://www.e access 01/09/24 Ordonez, V. (2000). Complementary remarks of the di rector, UNESCO-PROAP Conference on EFA Assessment, 17-20 January, 2000, Bangkok access 01/01/30 Osborne, M. E. (1969). The French presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Ru le and response (1859-1905) Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Postlethwaite, T. N. (1988). Kampuchea. In The encyclopedia of Comparative education and natio nal systems of education (pp. 412-413). Pergamon Press. Prasertsri, S. (1996). Rebirth of the learning tradition: A case study on the achievements of education for all in Cambodia UNESCO: Phnom Penh. Sar Kheng. (1999, September). Closing remark sum-up meeting on education, youth and sports achievement and activities for the 1998-99 school y ear and objectives for the new academic year of 1999-2000: Phnom Penh. Sar Kheng. (2000, November). Speech sum-up meeting on education, youth, and sport for 1999-2000 and new action for 2000-2001: Phnom Penh. Sloper, D. (1999). Higher education in Cambodia: The social and educat ion context for reconstruction UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific: Bangkok. pp 6 Sperling, G. B. (2001). Toward universal education: Making a promise, and keeping it. Foreign Affairs 80/5, pp 7-13. State of Cambodia. (1991). Final report: National Conference on Education For All 2-6 September: Phnom Penh. Tol Lah. (1997). Success in education: A tool for d evelopment: Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport: Tol Lah. (1999, September). Speech sum-up meeting on education, youth and sports for 1998-1999 and indicators for the 1999-2000 academic years: Ph nom Penh. Tol Lah. (2000, November). Opening speech sum-up meeting on education, youth and sport for 1999-2000: Phnom Penh. UNESCO. (1993). UNESCO: Worldwide action in education : France, pp. 14 UNESCO & UNDP. (1999). Basic education for all in Cambodia : A strategic approach for human development, and poverty alleviation: Phnom Penh. UNESCO. (1998a). Basic education for empowerment of the poor APPEAL: Bangkok UNESCO. (1998b). “ Towards the 21st century” national strategy: Educat ion for All in Cambodia UN working group on poverty and education: UNESCO-Camb odia: Phnom Penh. Windham, D. M. (1992). Education for all: The requirements (Monograph III). UNESCO: Paris.About the Authors


18 of 20 Sam Sideth DyInstitute of Comparative and International Educatio n Graduate School of EducationHiroshima UniversityKagamiyama, Higashi Hiroshima Shi739-8524, Hiroshima, JapanSam Sideth Dy, a Cambodian survivor of the past two decades of civil war (1970s-1980s) in Cambodia, is currently enrolled in a PhD Program at the Graduate School of Education, Hiroshima University. His field of specialization is Education and Human Sciences. Before coming to J apan in 1998, he was a senior lecturer of English language teaching method ology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh where he earned his first university degree. He holds membership in Comparative and International Educati on Society (CIES) and Japan Comparative Education Society. His area of re search is basic education policy in Cambodia. He may be reached by email at or or by phone at (082) 422-1921. Akira NinomiyaProfessorDepartment of EducationGraduate School of EducationHiroshima UniversityKagamiyama, Higashi Hiroshima Shi739-8524, Hiroshima, JapanAkira Ninomiya is a Professor of Comparative and In ternational Education and Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Education, Hiroshima University. He has published several books and articles such as Cross-Cultural Perspectives (1995); Societies and Schools in the 21st Century (2000); and “World Citizenship” (American Educational Research Journal vol.41, no. 1999 – co-authored with Walter Parker, and John Cogan). H e may be reached by email at or postal mail at the above address. The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Editor: Gene V Glass, Arizona State UniversityProduction Assistant: Chris Murrell, Arizona State University General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State Un iversity, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: .EPAA Editorial Board


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