kompong cham town, Kompong Cham province – The government is falling short of its responsibility to educate Cambodia’s children, contributing to a cycle that encourages students to bribe their way through school—and eventually use bribery to get a job, education officials said last week.
Teachers, who receive a small salary from the government, are forced to take bribes from students, leading youths to be complacent about their studies, officials said Thursday at a Kompong Cham education discussion hosted by the Center for Social Development.
“The government should raise the salaries of the teachers, if it [wants] to increase the quality of education,” said Yim Bunthet, a teacher in Kompong Cham, the nation’s most populous province with 1.6 million people.
Last year’s budget allotted the most money ever to the social services sector, including $58.8 million for education. Still in 2001, just 11 percent of the budget went to education, compared to almost 30 percent for military and security concerns.
Teacher’s salaries average about $25 per month. Many of them ask for daily “fees” from each student to supplement their income. In February, hundreds of teachers went on a nationwide strike to protest their low salaries, but government officials told them they could not afford to give them a raise.
“I think the salary of teachers now is not enough to support the current living expenses,” bemoaned one teacher. “We are hungry. We need to feed our children. How can we afford it with this current salary?”
Thursday’s conference is the third education discussion hosted by the center. After the tape recordings of the discussions are transcribed, the proceedings of each forum and recommendations will be published in a “white paper” and delivered to the government, said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
Most of the discussion centered around the low salaries and their consequences. Other participants were quick to point out that lazy students, or apathetic parents were also to blame for the low quality of education.
Students are starting to have more and more fun, said one participant. There are more distractions today, from karaoke, to gang membership, vandalism and visiting brothels. Those are made even more tempting to students who know it doesn’t matter how hard they study, but rather how much money they can pay the teacher that will ensure them a diploma, participants said.
“Some students think, ‘Why should we study hard, because in the future there will be no job to do unless we have money for bribes,’” said one teacher. “If they want to work with a private company or a state ministry, again bribery will help them.”
As for the parents, sometimes they are too busy to encourage their children to study, or help them with schoolwork, participants said.
Most, though, thought education would improve if the government allotted more money for teachers salaries. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that to increase teacher salaries, villagers would have to be taxed.
Kong Kom, a Sam Rainsy Party senator and chairman of the education committee, said that was untrue and “a kind of propaganda.”
“The government doesn’t see the importance of the education sector,” Kong Kom said. “If the government saw the importance of education…they would finance it.”