Current Challenges

Cambodia allocated around 9% of its annual budget into education to improve its quality. However, 83% of the funds are allocated to servicing remunerations and operation expenses, which might suggest rent seeking in the process. That leaves little funds for schools' facilities maintenance and to provide proper teaching materials like computers and internet.

There is insufficient staff in schools, with 58,776 teachers teaching 2,311,107 primary school students and only 27,240 teachers teaching 637,629 lower secondary students. The teacher-pupil ratio is thus very high and might result in inefficiency. In addition, over 60% of the primary and secondary school teachers received at most secondary education, which thus compromises the quality of education.

A severe scarcity of schools and classrooms, particularly in the rural areas, limit the number of children who have access to education. Most Cambodian villages have a primary school, but they are not complete and do not offer a full 1-6 grade curriculum. Cambodian children face greater difficulty in the pursuit of a higher level of education,[9] because secondary schools are in less than 10% of the villages. Only 5.4% of Cambodian villages have a lower secondary school and only 2% of them have an upper secondary school.

Students can only pursue higher education if they can afford the fees. Therefore, further education becomes inaccessible to the bulk of potential pupils. The percentage of population in each group attending an educational institution is shown in Table 1, indicating that only approximately 14.37% of the population can afford to pursue tertiary education:

Table 1

<6 6-14 15-19 20-24 25+
28.91% 80.19% 51.83% 14.37% 1.20%

Policy implementation
Provincial/Municipal Offices of Education (POE) are responsible for supporting the ministry in implementing educational policies, preparing and submitting plans for further development of education, providing data and statistics of schools. However, there is a lack of congruence between research and policy, making linked possibly to the inadequacy of budget and research facilities that exemplifies the weakness in analytical research and development for its education system. As a result, there is a significant gap between policy formation, implementation and monitoring in the education system that does not target the specific problems that the educators and children face.

Gender disparity
Although the literacy rate and the number of girls graduating from primary school in Cambodia are increasing, the number of girls who drop out from secondary education is much higher than the number of boys. In 2008, the ratio of girls to boys in upper secondary is 75% and only 50% in tertiary education. This disparity can be partly attributed to the higher opportunity cost of sending girls to school as there will be one less helping hand to earn an extra income. The trade-off between school participation and economic activity increases as the child gets older and this trend is particularly prevalent among girls. In 2008, 23% of young women were illiterate compared to 16% of men.

Dropout rates
Statistically, from 2005 to 2009, primary school enrolment rates for males and females were at 90 and 87 percent respectively while the attendance levels are at 84 and 86 percent of the students heading to school. This suggests that not all the children in Cambodia are able to consistently attend the school's curriculum due to possibly financial reasons, health care issues and even transportation costs. In addition, there are disparities between the perceived data to that of the official administrative data rendering the primary school graduation rates. By survey, 92 percent of the children should have completed primary education until the final grade. On the other hand, formal school's administrative data suggests that only a mere 43 percent has completed primary education. The disparity in the data arises due to the means whereby a child can receive education in Cambodia, formal, non-formal and informal.

Lack of awareness
It was established at the World Summit in Johannesburg that education plays a pivotal role in achieving a nation's sustainable development. The lack of awareness for the need of education for sustainable development (ERS) is significantly apparent in Cambodia amidst the financial poverty it faces. The priorities for the nation's children dwell mainly as a contributor the family's finances and not the establishment of their education.

Tertiary education
In 2011, Cambodia has tertiary enrollment rate of 10%, which is low when compared with other nations.[18]
Cambodia's higher education lacks world recognition and is not acknowledged by QS World University Rankings.
Furthermore, there is inadequate communication between schools and corporations. This thus hinders the necessary adjustment of the curriculum to equip the students with skills to meet the demand of the labour market. Graduates find difficulty integrating into the workforce.

Higher education institutions are mainly in major cities. Hence, students have to bear the cost of transport and living expenses in addition to their school fees. Furthermore, those who manage to find alternative places to live in are facing the risk of being drawn into an increasingly rampant drug culture or being coerced into prostitution.
Rankings by the World Economic Forum (compiled 2013-2014 but using available data) place Cambodia 116th out of 148 nations, behind Thailand (66th), Vietnam (95th) and neighboring Laos (111th).

Poverty hindering education
Given that the poverty line in the rural areas of Cambodia is set at US$0.25 per person per daily consumption, 53.7% of the population in Siem Reaps is living below the poverty line. Due to poverty, children in Cambodia are forced to give up education to work and supplement the family's income. The opportunity cost of sending their children to school are very high in some families, making it almost impossible for the children to receive education. Based on the data from International Labour Organization, close to 20% of children ages 5-9 are employed. The figures then rise to 47% for children between ages 10-14 and 34% for ages 15-17. Among the number of working children of ages 5 to 17, only 45% have the chance to attend school.

Non-economic productive activities such as housework tend to start earlier than economic activities, although less intensively, causing children in Cambodia to be performing 'double-duty' -- they are involved in housework and economic activity, leaving them little or no time to go to school. Non-economic activities add an average of eight hours per week to the work burden of the economically active children, leading to an average weekly working hours to almost 31. Having children to work before going to school can affect their literacy and numeracy test scores, by nine percentage points after accounting for the differences in school quality. This shows that work affects school enrolment and ability of children to derive educational benefit from schooling.

A 2007 report by the Cambodian NGO Education Partnership (NEP) suggested that education costs for each child averaged $108 annually -- 9 percent of the average annual income of each family. Clearly, in a nation where having four or five children is very common, the education costs become very significant.

The NEP study found that these fees were the main reason given for children not attending school and that a quarter of parents were unaware that their children had a right to free education.

Teachers in Cambodia earn US$0.00 to US$0.01 a month. They resort to collecting informal school fees of $0.02 to $0.05 per day from students to supplement their salaries. This is for teachers in the city only, and it is spreading to some of the provincial ones. This further deters children from attending schools as they cannot afford to pay for the informal school fees. With an average of three children per household in Cambodia, the informal school fees will add up to a significant amount, making it almost impossible for parents to send their children to school. Though there are efforts by the Cambodia government to promise free provision of education, the collection of informal school fees is a huge deterrence for children to attend school.

Due to the shortage of teachers in Cambodia, teachers employed often lack proper training and have a high student-teacher ratio. This has led to poor quality of education and high grade-repeat rates among students. From the data, in Siem Reap province, 12% of primary school students failed to be promoted to the next grade level at the end of the 2006-07 school year. Most teachers in Cambodia, especially those in the more remote areas, had not completed their secondary education. With a fast-growing youth population, if teachers are required to possess a certain minimum qualification, the problem of teacher shortage will be more severe.

Lack of resources
Due to a lack of resources and minimum government funding for schools, there is a shortage of teaching material and school facilities. According to UNESCO, merely 1.6% of Cambodia's GDP (gross domestic product) is spent on education. Even though the Cambodian government promises to provide $1.50-$1.75 per student per year to each primary school for teaching materials and operating costs, the sum is often insufficient to cover the basic operational cost of the schools. Teachers often have to use their own money to buy items like chalk.

Corruption in education
Due to corruption in most parts of Cambodia's institutions, the education institution is not spared. Although there is an increasing awareness of the importance of education which directly correlates with employability, citizens are merely attending schools for the sake of obtaining paper qualifications. There is no great impetus to learn and to increase one's productivity. The quality of education in Cambodia remains doubtful and not all citizens are capable of undertaking tasks that their paper qualifications state they are capable of.

Passing rates at schools are ill-represented due to bribery and the skewed level of difficulty of tests handed out in schools. On top of this, the Ministry of Education has to decrease the average passing scores to increase the passing rates of students or the unemployment rate in the country will be higher than reported.

Relation with the development of nation
The low 40% enrollment rate at secondary level and 5% at tertiary level has caused the majority of Cambodian population not being able to converse in English, which is the common language used in the commercial industries.

Bill Hayden, Australian's foreign minister said in 1983 that 'the only way for Australia to help Cambodia in the reconstruction is to help them to learn English', so that they can request for aid, access modern technology and the commercial world, as well as share knowledge to help Cambodia develop.[26] Failing to educate women can also lead to an economic cost of US$92 billion worldwide each year, thus suggesting that educating more women in Cambodia would lead to more economic gains.

The role of NGOs
There is a significant presence in Cambodia of schools built and continuously funded by overseas supporters and of education support NGOs that assist with training, resources and funding. The role of these NGOs is significant to the extent that the Minister of MOEYS is on public record as saying that the input of these NGOs is an integral part of the education strategy and that without the NGOs the government would be unable to reach its education targets.
The relationship between MOEYS and the NGO sector is integral to the 2010 Education Strategic Plan which stated as an objective:

Expand public/NGO/ community partnerships in formal and non-formal education in border, remote and disadvantaged areas as well as increase support for the provision of local life skills and vocational training and basic/required professional skills responsive to the needs of the social and labor market.

In 2012 and 2013 the MOEYS rolled out a registration process designed to integrate NGOs into the overall education framework and to ensure NGOs meet standards in teaching quality, physical environment and governance. Registration provides a means for some government leverage or control over this sector, as well a clearer means of gathering relevant statistical information.

The role of education-related NGOs is likely to become more closely entwined with MOEYS over time.