‘Uncertain’ Future for Cambodian Youth: Report

The World Bank’s 2007 World Development Report entitled “Development and the Next Gen­eration,” which was released Thurs­day, painted a grim picture of young Cambodians’ access to edu­­­ca­tion and their chances of employment.

“Young people in Cambodia face an uncertain future,” Country Manager Nisha Agrawal said at the report’s launch in Phnom Penh. “Even those students who graduate from university are not guaranteed employment since jobs are lacking and the quality of higher education is uncertain,” she said.

Seventy percent of the population is under 30, Agrawal said. Although primary school enrollment has been steadily rising and now surpasses 90 percent, almost half of the nation’s primary school students drop out before they finish, she said.

Enrollment is only 30 percent in lower secondary school, and drops to 11 percent in upper secondary school, Agrawal said. The World Bank has given $28 million to the Ministry of Education to expand access to basic education, especially for girls and poor students, she added.

Even those who finish school have difficulty making their education pay in the labor market.

According to Chiv You Meng, president of the Khmer Youth Association, 40,000 to 50,000 students graduate from Cambodia’s universities each year, and only one out of nine among them finds a job.

“Youth unemployment is the big­gest concern,” he said, adding that it breeds hopelessness and social problems. The World Bank also stressed the dangers that youth unemployment may present for a society in its report. “[I]f youth remain unemployed for long periods, as happened when the baby boom oc­curred in Europe and the United States [after World War II], this not only wastes human resources—it also risks misaligned expectations and social unrest that could dampen the investment climate and growth,” the Bank said.

Education Minister Kol Pheng called on universities to tighten their links with the labor market through volunteer and internship programs.

He also urged university students to focus less on acquiring multiple degrees and more on deepening their practical experience. “Students should not run to medical school and at the same time go to law school,” he said. “Learn one thing and be sure about the thing you learn.”

Students should try to bolster their real world experience, Kol Pheng said. “You can have four or five degrees on paper, but it doesn’t prove your skills,” he added.

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