Campaign Promotes Free Textbooks for Students

Two NGOs on Monday launched an online campaign to galvanize public support for providing students with free textbooks after a survey found that 85 percent of high-school pupils lack the necessary books for their studies.

The Khmer Institute for National Development (KIND) and the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) on Monday commenced a 30-day Facebook drive to draw attention to the need for study aids and to lobby the government to increase the Ministry of Education’s budget for textbooks.

In a joint press release to announce the campaign, KIND and ANSA-EAP said they surveyed nearly 500 pupils last year at 33 high schools in Phnom Penh and three provinces—Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu and Kampot—and found that 85 percent of the students did not have the textbooks they needed to properly prepare for their exams.

They said a shortage of textbooks has also left students unable to understand their lessons or complete their homework—and therefore more likely to quit their studies.

Last year, the two NGOs exposed Education Ministry officials who were stealing textbooks intended to be provided free to students, and then selling them back to schools or in local markets.

Seng Rithy, the executive director of KIND, said this reselling of textbooks was a major contributor to the problem. “We think that poor families cannot buy books for their children, but for rich families, it is not a problem,” he said.

San Chey, a coordinator for ANSA-EAP, said the NGOs hoped the Facebook campaign would catch the attention of government officials. “A book is a piece of gold for students to study. If they do not have books, students cannot study,” he said.

Mr. Chey urged members of the public to get behind the effort by posting pictures of themselves posing with a sign calling for free textbooks, as well as “Liking” and “Sharing” Facebook posts related to the campaign.

Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said there are about 2 million students enrolled in primary and high schools across the country, and that the ministry was increasing the number of available textbooks every year.

“In the near future, there will be enough textbooks for all of the students, but right now, we cannot provide them with enough,” he said.

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