Informal school enrollment fees have been abolished by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, which will take part in a $65,000 media campaign to inform students and their families of the ban.
Each year, as many as 25 percent of children of school age do not sign up for school, according to ministry figures. That’s partly because many poor families cannot afford the many different fees that teachers demand of students in order to supplement their meager salaries, which average about $25 a month. The fees often vary from 5,000 to 15,000 riel (about $1.28 to $3.84) per child.
Most Cambodian students do not make it to secondary school. The 1998 census found that just 25 percent of the country’s population had finished primary school.
The media campaign, paid for by Unicef, began Monday and will continue for the next four weeks. Ads telling children and parents to “Register Now. It’s Free!” will be played on government and commercial television and radio stations.
There are also color newspaper ads and 240,000 posters that are being distributed nationwide. Two dozen inspectors will travel through Cambodia’s 187 districts to enforce the ban, said Jerry Van Mourik, a consultant to the ministry.
“This will alleviate the burden of poor parents,” Minister of Education Tol Lah said Monday. “Many parents aren’t going to go to schools to argue that they are too poor [to pay the informal fees]. They just shy away.”
But Van Mourik said the campaign will encourage kids and parents to stand up and feel empowered ahead of the Oct 5 start of the school year.
The ministry campaign is especially targeting girls, who tend to be pulled out of school by their parents more often than boys, Tol Lah said.
“I want a good education for my daughter,” says a parent in one ad. “She needs a job when she’s grown up.”
Tol Lah said there is also a disparity between dropout rates in rural and urban areas. Families in the cities have more money, which enables children to concentrate on their studies, while rural families often need their children to quit school and help with the farm work instead.
Van Mourik said the campaign is not targeting other kinds of informal fees, which teachers and administrators sometimes euphemistically refer to as “voluntary contributions.” Students are often charged for the use of books and other study materials and for additional classes.
“It is worrying, but you cannot get rid of it overnight,” Van Mourik said.
Tol Lah said there are no plans to raise teacher salaries, although he said he “feels sorry” for teachers because they are paid so little.
“It is a very painful question. But we have to be realistic,” he said. “The ministry just doesn’t have the money.”