Four thousand riel, about $1, may not seem like a lot of money to some, but it might have kept Mao Dy out of school.
The 15-year-old boy said no money has come for months from his father, who isn’t around much in the first place. He and his mother frequently must depend on a neighbor for food. They are being threatened with eviction from their room in Phnom Penh’s Chamcarmon district because they have not been able to pay the rent for more than two months.
But thanks to a new government program this year, Mao Dy’s school isn’t asking for an entrance fee, as it has in years past.
“I am very happy that I don’t need to pay to go to school. This also helps my mother, because we are very poor. If they ask me to pay now, my mother could not afford it or would have to beg,” Mao Dy said.
Tens of thousands of children were spared the entrance fee this year when they showed up for school, which started Monday.
Children from grade one to grade nine will no longer have to pay the fees, said Pok Than, secretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
The ministry’s so-called Priority Action Program allocates to schools about 30 billion riel, or about $7.7 million, to cover the fees, Pok Than said. That comes to between $1 and 2,000 riel to 3,000 riel per student, he said.
A pilot project eliminating the entrance fee in 10 provinces last year was “highly fruitful and successful,” Pok Than said. The dropout rate in those provinces declined 50 percent and more than 50,000 additional children showed up for school, he said.
Hang Chhay, director of the 6,000-plus-student Santhor Mok high school in Tuol Kok, said the 14 million riel (approximately $3,590) his school was receiving would help pay for chalk, blackboards, and other supplies and would help to replace broken furniture.
But he said the school still has pressing needs, including about 20 new classrooms. Some classes have as many as 80 students, he said.
In a radio address Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said closer cooperation between schools, teachers and parents can improve children’s performance in school and prevent juvenile crime.
Government education adviser and Royal University of Phnom Penh Dean Chhoy Yiheang said there appeared to be more children and parents coming to school than usual on Monday.
“It’s a good sign that parents, the schools and pupils are coming together to improve the quality of education. The atmosphere was very different from last year.”