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New Minister Cleans Up Cambodia’s Education System

Hang Chuon Naron, Cambodia's Minster of Education
Hang Chuon Naron, Cambodia's Minster of Education
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Cambodia’s Grade 12 students took their final test in August 2014. Only 26% of them passed. The new Minister of Education had ordered extra security around the testing places.

Students could not bring cell phones or calculators into the rooms. Teachers did not have the chance to tell students the answers to the exam questions. The government employed monitors to watch the test-takers carefully. Why was last year different from earlier years?

Hang Chuon Naron entered office as Education Minister in 2014. He wants to end corruption in Cambodia’s schools. He thinks that education reform is necessary for Cambodia’s economic development.

“So the most important factor is that there is a skills mismatch in Cambodia. And it becomes an obstacle to economic development, to growth, to attracting foreign direct investment. So we have investors coming in; they look for [a] skilled labor force - we don’t have enough. But at the supply side we have many graduates that cannot find jobs. And this is a problem that many countries are facing - the skills mismatch."

Students who failed were permitted to take the test again in October. The government and schools tried to help these students improve their scores. The second time around, about eighteen percent of the students passed the test.

Students taking the test in 2015 know they will have to study hard in order to do well on the test.

Final year student Rattana says he and his classmates know they will not be able to cheat on their exams. To pass secondary school and enter university, they will have to change their behavior, he says.

“The new policy means we’re studying harder and not going out as much as we used to. It also means we won’t have to spend money during exams.”

In the past, some teachers would sell the exam questions to students. Mr. Naron’s new policies included better pay and training for teachers.

Teachers now earn an average of 550,000 riel a month. That is about $137 in American money. In May 2015, their minimum salary ​will increase to 650,000 riel, or about $162. The overall budget for education will increase to $440 million.

New training will help educators better teach critical thinking and problem solving skills.

There is much room for improvement in Cambodian schools. The usual primary school class has 46 students to one teacher. This is the highest student-teacher ratio outside of Africa.

The Asian Development Bank, or ADB, is a new resource for Cambodia’s education reform. The bank is giving ninety million dollars to Cambodia over the next five years. The money will be used in part on programs to help students stay in school. It will also go toward efforts to improve the quality of education.

The ADB's Sophea Mar praises the Cambodian government’s decision to increase spending on education. Yet, he believes the amount is still too low. Education gets about seventeen percent of the country’s budget.

“Budget allocation is important, but also expenditure is even more important … So reform is not just only taking place within the ministry. The reform has to start from the classroom, has to start from the lower level.”

Cambodia’s education reforms need support from everyone. Students, parents, government, and businesses will all need to help improve schools. Both the tests and the economy will show the results.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Robert Carmichael reported this story for VOA News. Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Catherine Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

calculator – n. a small electronic device that is used for adding, subtracting, etc.

monitorn. a person who has the job of checking or watching some activity or behavior

mismatchn. a situation in which two people or things are not balanced or equal to each other in some way

minimumadj. least or lowest possible in amount or degree

salary n. an amount of money that an employee is paid each year

ratio – n. the relationship that exists between the size, number, or amount of two things and that is often represented by two numbers

allocation - n. to divide and give out (something) for a special reason or to particular people, companies, etc.

expendituren. an amount of money that is spent on something