An old Khmer proverb says, “Beauty is the wealth of woman, and knowledge is the wealth of man.”
A rewording of that may soon be in order if the Ministry of Education’s five-year plan focusing on improving education for girls and ethnic minorities succeeds.
A recent $38 million loan from the Asian Development Bank may buttress a plan that was criticized by some donors as too ambitious.
But Urooj Malik, country representative of the ADB, insists policy makers have tried to be “as realistic as possible in terms of what is doable.”
Mu Sochua, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, said she was confident the plan would work because of the open communication between her ministry and the Ministry of Education when drafting the plan.
Policies that improve female education are essential because the difference between societies with educated women and those without is “night and day,” Mu Sochua said. Cambodia’s shortage of qualified women commune candidates is just one example, she said.
“The law requires that candidates read and write, which I agree with. What kind of leadership can you guarantee otherwise?
“But this means we must increase the number of women being educated in the future in order to have more women in politics,” Mu Sochua said.
The other group targeted in the five-year plan is children living in remote areas, Ministry of Education Secretary of State Im Sethy said. The plan would provide scholarships for students too poor to pay for their schooling, so they would not be kept home to help their parents work, he said.
Thuy Chanthourn, a 28-year-old from Kratie province, said he empathized with children struggling to learn in remote areas.
Although his mother, a primary school teacher, rice farmer and single parent of seven all at once, always emphasized learning, she drew the line when Thuy Chanthourn said he wanted to go to college.
“My family wanted me to stay in the village. They said it was too expensive. I had to hide the money I was saving up for the trip to Phnom Penh,” Thuy Chanthourn said.
Although generally satisfied with his education in Kratie, Thuy Chanthourn said one real problem was government corruption when it came time to take exams.
“Although I was the best in my class at mathematics and chemistry, I saw the kids who copied my exam get promoted to high school, while I was just given a certificate,” he said, claiming he found out later they had paid three grams of gold each for their promotions.
The Cambodian Women’s Media Center recently produced a song entitled “Women’s Will” that is currently being aired on television across the country.
But how soon the lyrics “I continue my studies so that I can use my knowledge to find a higher position and to make a better life for my family” will replace traditional proverbs encouraging women to stay home remains to be seen.
Nheik Metvey Pheap, 12, a seventh-grader at Chaktomuk secondary school, is evidence of lingering attitudes.
“Yes, my three sisters also go to school,” he said. But as the only son, “it is more important that I finish school.”