Student Enrollment Increases, Officials Say

Government efforts to eliminate informal school registration fees have contributed to a sharp in­crease in the number of students enrolled in public schools in the current school year, officials from the Ministry of Education and the UN Children’s Fund said.

There are 380,000 newly en­rolled students nationwide since the school year began in Sept­ember, officials said. That is the largest number of new students in recent years, according to Louis-Georges Arsenault, Unicef representative in Cambodia.

Enrollment in primary schools rose 14 percent, from 2.4 million students in the 2000-2001 school year to 2.7 million students in the current 2001-2002 school year, said Ministry of Education Se­cretary of State Pok Than.

In secondary schools, the number of students jumped 19 percent to 460,000 in 2001, compared to 380,000 the previous year, he said.

The new students include both young children entering school for the first time and older children from poor families who have never been enrolled, officials said. The figures were compiled by provincial education directors.

Now that the government has been able to get these new students into the schools, the challenge is to keep them there until they complete their studies, Mi­nister of Education Tol Lah said.

Poor families often pull children out of school for months to help with rice harvesting and other farming duties. Many children, especially girls, never return to school.

The 1998 census found that just 25 percent of the country’s population had finished primary school.

In 2000, the ministry abolished the informal registration fees in 10 provinces. This was expanded by the ministry to the entire nation in September 2001. The ministry then asked Unicef to fund a media campaign to let parents and students now about the new policy.

For four weeks in September, Unicef ran newspaper advertisements and radio and television commercials with the slogan, “Register Now. It’s Free.”

In addition, 40,000 posters carrying that message were distributed through­out the country.

The campaign paid special at­tention to enrolling girls, since parents tend to pull them out of school more often than boys.

The campaign to raise enrollment numbers raises other pressing issues, Arsenault said.

There are not enough classrooms for the students, he said. Also, “teachers can’t teach for free if they don’t earn enough to feed themselves,” he said.

Teachers now earn about $20 per month. Funding for teachers’ salaries will be discussed at next month’s meeting of international donors, Arsenault said.

 

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