About 23 percent of children in three Cambodian provinces along the country’s northwestern border with Thailand have dropped out of school, causing great concern for the education ministry.
During a conference on Wednesday, Education Minister Hangchuon Naron said that the dropout rate in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Oddor Meanchey provinces was significantly higher than in other Cambodian provinces, where dropout rates average 18 to 19 percent.
The minister blamed poverty and parents who migrate to Thailand for work as the main reasons behind the problem.
In an effort to resolve the issue, the ministry is training teachers to advise students to stay in school while allowing them to select their own subjects and to provide solutions to their daily living issues.
The teachers are also to advise students with absentee parents working overseas about the importance of education.
“So if teachers advise the students [to stay in school] that will help them to make the right decision,” said Naron. “They could explain to those students that they need to pursue their studies successfully and then find local jobs [afterward] as well,” he said.
“Risky migration was a subject we have already discussed in the past, and it is something that should be avoided,” he said.
“In summation, we can say that this training is important to the education field and it could [also] solve the migration issue [while simultaneously] strengthening the education field,” said the minister.
“So in this mandate, intensifying training for teachers at the National Institute of Education, the provincial pedagogy departments, and education centers is a top priority,” he said.
Critics have their doubts about the ministry’s plan, however.
Ouk Chay Vy, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said the program would increase the ministry’s budget and would not resolve the issue because it fails to address the issues that cause students to drop out.
She says those reasons are poverty due to unemployment and lack of land for cultivation. She said that most students stop going to school because they need to work to support their families.
Vy said a better strategy would be for the government to try to boost employment so that citizens could have decent living standards.
“If the government could give them help, it would still not be enough,” she said.
“Their living conditions are so bad. The closure of several garment factories in Phnom Penh has resulted in many people [suddenly] becoming unemployed,” she said, adding “These students then have to migrate to other places, especially those who live in areas where land disputes are a problem. This is what’s making them give up their studies.”
Suon Sinuon, a farmer from Banteay Meanchey said that three of her children dropped out of school while they were in the sixth and ninth grades. They went to Thailand to work and help support the family.
She said that the children did not want to quit school, but they had no other choice because of the family’s living standards.
“If there were decent salaries [at home] I would not have let my children go so far away,” she said. “Who wants to be separated from their own children?”
“Others who have enough money don’t let their children migrate, but me, I am so poor that I had to let them go work in Thailand,” she said.
“I wanted to give them a good education, but that’s impossible since I can’t afford it,” said Sinuon.
“My youngest child finished the ninth grade but he gave up his studies because I ran out of money,” she said, adding, “Even though he’s now working in Thailand, we still face a lot of issues with our daily living and we spend too much.”
Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor reported that there are more than one million Cambodians working in Thailand.
Ministry of Labor’s report says there are more than one million people are working Thailand. Minsiter Hangchuon Naron said that most of these come from the provinces along the Thai border.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.