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Education in Cambodia - the current situation

In Cambodia 30 years of war as well as cultural genocide over the four years of the Khmer Rouge regime have had a devastating effect on the country. By 1979 the education system had totally ceased to exist and has had to be reconstructed. In the years since it has been a struggle to rebuild it.

From USAID website January 2016:

Today, Cambodia’s education indicators are among the lowest in Asia. While the primary school net enrollment rate is an impressive 96 percent, the rate for lower secondary is 34 percent and for upper secondary is
only 21 percent. Due to high rates of poverty in the rural areas, poor quality of education, and insufficient number of classrooms and teachers, school dropout rates in Cambodia remain high at the primary school
(8.7 percent) and lower secondary school (19.6 percent) levels. Cambodia’s education system continues to be affected by a weak public sector service delivery system, minimal teacher capacity, lack of school facilities, and inadequate enrollment levels.

Why books?

While we recognise that there is an enormous need to develop educational facilities in Cambodia, we believe it is better for us to focus on support for the development of school libraries in a narrow geographical area where we already have good links and trusted partners. Our focus therefore has been on primary, junior and senior high schools in Takeo and Kampot provinces of Cambodia. Currently (February 2017) we are involved with 13 schools in Takeo Province and 5 schools in Kampot Province, as well as supporting 17 schools with "in-class library boxes" in each classroom. The total number of students in all of these schools is over 15,000 pupils.

Through this strategy we hope that we can encourage the development
of a reading culture. Books have the potential to open up a new world for students. We believe that the use of books/reading will provide wider opportunities for students as they progress through school and will enhance their capacity to enter tertiary education. This assists individuals to move out of poverty and to gain a better life for themselves and their families.

While we have purchased a core of books for the libraries, the stock of books needs to be expanded to maintain interest in the library and reading. There is no budget allocated by the Ministry of Education or the Provincial Education Authority for the purchase of new books. Furthermore library books are not seen as a priority when compared to the purchase of basic texts, development and/or repair of classrooms
and the need to improve teachers’ salaries.

As you will appreciate the need is enormous so we’ve had to set some criteria to guide the choice of schools we will assist. The schools will need to have:
• Local community involvement and commitment to the development of a school library,
• School leadership to be totally behind the project
• The presence of a highly motivated school librarian who has attended the training course supported by the Trust, and
• The existence of an actual physical library space.

Training Librarians

The Trust recognises that it is not enough just to supply books. We have covered the cost for basic training of 60 librarians at these schools. The librarians have all returned to their schools very enthusiastic and keen to implement their newly acquired knowledge. For the sustainability of the libraries having trained librarian teachers is extremely important. The librarians are really important in ensuring the books are well kept and the library systems are effective.

Books for Cambodia will continue to run further day courses for the librarians.

Book Buying

Our preference is to buy books in Cambodia rather than take donated books into Cambodia because it is more cost effective and supports the local publishing industry and book stores. In Cambodia, we purchase books in the Khmer language or bi-lingual Khmer/English directly from several publishers and Phnom Penh bookstores where prices are very competitive. Prior to purchasing the librarians and staff from each school are involved in selecting the books to be purchased. The range of books available in Cambodia is slowly expanding as more publishers begin business.


BOOKS FOR CAMBODIA is a New Zealand registered Charitable Trust, reg no. CC11467.
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