Literacy Campaign Fails to Reach Target; Migration Blamed

A yearlong campaign by Unesco and the government to boost adult literacy across Cambodia came to a disappointing end Wednesday, with stakeholders attributing poor results to their failure to account for the effects of work-related migration.

Launched in March last year with the aim of raising adult literacy to 84.4 percent of the population by enrolling 90,000 people across the country in intensive classes, the $3 million campaign succeeded in signing up just 66,642, only 72 percent of whom completed the program, according to a report released during a closing ceremony.

The two-hour literacy classes held on weeknights in more than 50 locations across the country—two in each province and several in Phnom Penh—steadily lost participants throughout the year, the report says.

Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, which put about half a million dollars toward the program, said while the initiative was a success in terms of coordination and effort, it failed to adequately account for migration patterns when targeting low-literacy communities.

“The distribution of numbers of literacy classes…should be based on the actual needs of the communities’ people rather than statistics and numbers,” she said, explaining a significant number of would-be participants in rural areas had migrated to city centers.

“Many local authorities informed us that most of the illiterate people are migrating to work in factories and are coming back and forth be­tween their province and the urban areas,” she said.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron also pointed to migration as a major stumbling block.

“In Banteay Meanchey, the number of teachers and learners was quite a lot. Then the number [of participants] reduced because of a lot of factors, including migration, since it is a border province,” he said, referring to migration to Thailand.

According to the report, 35 percent of participants in Banteay Meanchey province did not complete the course, well above the program’s average dropout rate of 21.6 percent.

This figure, however, paled in comparison with the 90 percent dropout rate in northern Stung Treng province, where only 1,369 enrolled in the first place.

In Phnom Penh, more than 80 percent of participants saw the course through to graduation, with similar completion rates recorded in Siem Reap and Pursat provinces.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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