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Saturday, November 17, 2007


Education: who pays?

A recent issue of the Phnom Penh Post tells of a report released by NGO Education Partnership (NEP). This confirmed what I had heard from friends here in Kompong Chhnang.

There is no such thing as free education in Cambodia. According to the report it costs a family $108.20 to send one child to school each year. I can hear Australian parents saying 'Yeah? We pay way more than that for additional school expenses.' But for an Australian parent, in the lower income bracket earning say $25,000 per year, that $108.20 is only 0.4328% of your annual income and you are paying for extras. The Cambodian parent pays this money for the child to attend school. The type of extras we are used to in Australia don't exist in Cambodia. And $108.20 is 8.7% of average annual family income. Multiply that by however-many kids in the family and you soon figure that it is impossible for many Cambodian families to send their children to school.

One parent reported that they are required to pay the teachers for different sessions during the day. Fees are 300 riel for formal class 7 - 11 am; 500 riel for extra class 11 - 12; and $10 per month for an extra special class in the afternoon. Students who do not attend the extra classes can expect to fail their examinations as key information is kept for the extra classes.

The fees are to supplement the teachers' meagre income. Many earn less than workers in a garment factory with salaries of $30 or $40 per month. They often wait for their salary to arrive late, if at all.

I don't know the solution to this problem. It seems like a chicken and egg situation to me. Without an education what chance do Cambodian people have of earning good money? If incomes are low there are little or no taxes to support the funding of quality education.

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After writing this my mind ticked over a little more and I came up with an idea. Many charities run programs that allow people in Australia and other developed countries to sponsor a child in countries such as Cambodia. Perhaps these charities could consider the concept of sponsor a teacher. Paying the teacher has become part of Cambodian culture (along with paying other government workers for services rendered). To create a new culture the need to pay the teacher should be taken away. If teachers were given a decent wage—thanks to the charities and donors in developed countries—then Cambodian families would get used to sending their kids to school even when they have no money. In time the culture of paying the teacher would fall away.

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