In many of Cambodia’s resource-starved communities, it is not unusual to see school classrooms with few or no books. But even in schools where books are available, there are still obstacles in making sure students have access to them, according to education officials, who say a government program that provides school books to students is not always carried out correctly.
Some schools require students to return their books—which are assigned to them for a five-year period—one month before the end of the school year.
“This has affected the teaching programs because the students do not have books to self-study at home,” said Eang Theng, principal of Phnom Penh’s Chey Chumneah primary school.
Some of the 2,800 students’ parents at Chey Chumneah school have resorted to buying the books at the market so that their children can complete the last month of studies, he said.
“They wrongly implemented the policy of the [education] ministry,” said En Kimsrun, director of the department of publishing and distribution at the ministry of education. “We have advised them to collect the books in the end of the school year when they finish the program.”
Some schools have ordered students to pay a deposit before handing out textbooks, he added. In the end, he said, some schools simply kept the money.
A second obstacle to the textbook program is that an estimated 2 percent of school books go missing every year. The government publishes 5 million books for grades 1 through 12 to replace the missing books, Em Kimsrun said.
Eang Theang said some students have had books destroyed in fires that have swept through their neighborhoods, while other families move to different communities without returning the books. To cover the cost of other materials such as chalk, schools have often demanded a contribution from students. According to Secretary of State Pok Than, the deposit is usually between 5,000 to 10,000 riel.
The government is trying to cut the cost of studies for poor families, eliminating the deposits for some students.