Quality education has a long history in Cambodia, according to Supote Prasertsri, head of the education program for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Cambodia.
“When the Europeans established their first university of La Sorbonne (Paris) in the 12th century, Cambodia already had two universities in Angkor,” Prasertsri said Thursday at the Fifth International Conference on Language and Development.
More recently, before the conflicts in the 1970s, Cambodian teachers, along with teachers in Singapore, were the highest paid in Southeast Asia, Prasertsri said.
Now they get an average of $30 per month, and today’s level of illiteracy in Cambodia is one of the highest among Asean countries.
A report released last year painted a bleak picture. It estimates that six out of 10 Cambodians older than 14 are either illiterate or semi-literate, meaning they may be able to read some, but cannot write. The truly literate comprise 37.1 percent of the population, and the totally illiterate 36.3 percent.
Prasertsri shared with the conference at the Hotel Inter-Continental techniques used by Unesco, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, and the UN Development Program to assess illiteracy in Cambodia.
Prasertsri said the usual methods to measure literacy often are inaccurate, because they only ask people whether they can read or write. For the Cambodian literacy report, more than 6,500 people were tested to determine their abilities.
Cambodian officials took notice of the report.
The Ministry of Education is seeking a larger share of the budget. Currently, 10 percent of the national budget has been allocated for education, but Minister of Education Tol Lah said he is negotiating to increase that amount to 17 percent.
Cambodia’s goal is to reach an 80 percent literacy level by 2015, which would be about where it was before 1975, Prasertsri said.