While acknowledging low enrollment, especially in higher grade levels, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday said the government is making efforts to improve schools throughout Cambodia.
The ministry is focusing on improving the quality of education in all grades in an effort to nurture the nation’s future workforce, Mr. Chuon Naron said during an address to the 2017 Education Congress.
If students “have only a certificate that has no quality, it wouldn’t lead to a better job,” Mr. Chuon Naron said.
The ministry is also tackling issues such as children in rural areas living too far from high schools, which pushes up the dropout rate, he said.
Secondary education rates in Cambodia remain dismal. The country saw a decrease in enrollment in secondary school—grades 7 through 9—from 21 percent to 19 percent, Mr. Chuon Naron said.
“Secondary school is not available in all villages,” he said. “There are only about 1,200, if we counted them. They are not even available in each commune because we have more than 1,600 communes.”
Just 55 percent of secondary-school aged children attend school, compared to 98 percent at primary level, he added.
“The students need to travel long distances in order to study at high school,” Mr. Chuon Naron said, leading many to drop out of school to work.
“It is a choice of each person, but what we want to strengthen the quality in order to allow them to start a professional career after they finish and find a good job and have better pay,” Mr. Chuon Naron said.
The number of high school buildings has increased in the last two years from 500 to 600, but school construction remains a key element of the ministry’s agenda, Mr. Chuon Naron said.
The ministry has “built more school buildings all over the country, especially along the borders and places that face more challenges in their goal of locating schools closer to people’s houses,” he said.
During his tour of the provinces last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to build 368 new school buildings and renovate another 27 of Cambodia’s 103,886 public and private buildings, he added.
Mr. Chuon Naron said the ministry had also aimed to motivate educators by doubling teachers’ salaries over the past few years. Teacher salaries have already increased this year to 950,000 riel a month, or about $237, and the ministry will raise salaries again on April 1, he said.
About 50 provincial schools have also added multilanguage programs in the lower grade levels to better educate students in indigenous communities in northeast Cambodia, the minister said.
Each of the state-run schools in the program teaches one of five indigenous languages—Bunong, Jarai, Kreung, Kuy or Tampuon—in grades 1 to 3, then push students to speak only Khmer from grade 4 onward, he said.
Since introducing the multilanguage program in Mondolkiri six years ago, about 21 schools have started teaching Bunong to more than 500 students, said Tim Sangvat, director of the Mondolkiri provincial school district.
Incorporating their native languages has persuaded many parents to keep their young children in school in the province, Mr. Sangvat said.