After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia’s education system was rebuilt from scratch under the newly founded People’s Republic of Kampuchea. It modeled its system on that of Vietnam and France, but during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia small progress was made. Only a small percentage of the population benefited from any educational reform as most of the population was plagued by a Civil War that lasted until UN intervention in 1991.

A constitutional monarchy was founded in 1993 under King Sihanouk and a new constitution established. In articles 64 – 68, the constitution promulgated free primary and secondary education to all citizens for nine years. This provided the foundation for the basic education system in Cambodia today. Since the beginning of the 21st century improving the education system has become a priority for the Cambodian government. Their expenditure on education rose from 1.2% in 1998 to 2.5% of their total GDP in 2010. Educational reforms were made in 1996, and more recently the Education Ministry released a National Education Strategic Plan providing a roadmap for educational reform from 2014 to 2018.

Despite these advancements, Cambodia’s education system continues to be challenged by a number of social, cultural and economic factors.

Child Labor.Economic pressures force families to increase their household income by withdrawing their children from school in order to work. Although the Cambodian government has been active in reducing the prevalence of child labor across the country, the child labor rate remains at 28%.

School Dropout. 10% of Cambodia’s children have never attended school and more than 50% of the population is below 18. Furthermore, 6.6% of children aged 12-14 and 35.3% of children aged 15 -17 have dropped out of school. The minimum age for wage employment is 15 years.

Lack of access to land and job opportunities causes many families to withdraw their children from schools and migrate to Thailand.

Quality Education. Teachers have very little training, especially in rural areas, and many have not completed secondary school. Teacher training and skills improvement is nonexistent in remote areas. Moreover, there is no quality assurance of curricula and teaching methods.

Accessibility. Cambodia’s rural population suffers from a lack of teachers, schools and access to existing schools. During the wet season, these challenges become much more severe. Educational facilities are appallingly inadequate. Many schools lack the infrastructure to provide access to drinking water, toilets or sanitation; there is no maintenance or waste management capacity; and there is no money to buy basic materials.

Social and Economic Mobility. Teachers are paid a nominal salary of USD $50 per month. Many deliberately decrease the number of hours they teach in a classroom in order to take on private tutoring or look for additional jobs. It is also not uncommon for teachers to work in the fields to help their families during harvest season.

Unemployment rates amongst recent graduates remain high, as the Cambodian government struggles to find domestic employment for their educated youth. Even though the number of universities has increased, the only industries looking to hire are hospitality and social development.

The challenges the Cambodian government faces within the educational sector are deeply rooted and require a comprehensive restructuring in order to meet the demands of the 21st century. Below are some solutions that can help bring Cambodia closer to fulfilling their educational goals.

Incentivizing Teachers. Regardless of how many training sessions are put in place or how many computers are distributed to schools, if teachers do not show up to class the rest is ineffective. The first and foremost challenge that needs to be addressed is how to properly incentivize teachers. This includes paying teachers a higher salary and offering an opportunity for professional and social development.

University – Business Partnerships. Skills development is already a primary objective of the MoEYS. To compliment the government’s ongoing initiatives, private companies can partner with universities to provide market-relevant training and development. Private companies can provide assistance in the form of workshops, internships or mentorships that offer hands-on, market applicable training for upcoming graduates. Simultaneously, companies will be able to train an emerging work force to match their business needs and easily access future talent. IBM’s Academic Initiative is a great example of the positive affects such partnerships can have on education and the economy.

Teacher Training. Training good teachers is one of the country’s biggest challenges. If teaching standards cannot be improved from the ground level, then integrating ICT into schools will not have much of an impact. Before technology is brought into classrooms, money should be used to train teachers in pedagogy, content creation and basic computer literacy. Training sessions don’t have to be extensive. A 3-day workshop in which a few teachers from different regions are invited to participate can have positive results. Teachers should be taught with a combination of project-based, face-to-face and blended learning methods that require hands-on practice. They can advance through different levels culminating in a final certification of qualification. Teachers who pass the workshop can then move on to lead workshops and share knowledge with other teachers.

Vocational Training. More than 50% of Cambodia´s population is below 18, and many of them reside in remote, isolated areas. Given the extreme poverty conditions, basic literacy coupled with skills training is one of the most effective approaches for children’s educational development. Teaching a skill they can make a living from (computer literacy or sewing for example) will empower children and place them in a better position to find jobs in the future. Providing the right kind of support and resources to vocational training centers is key in improving Cambodia’s education system as a whole.

Telecommunication & Software Partners.Only 26% of Cambodians have access to electricity, one of the lowest electricity rates in the world. The government is working on a plan to increase access to reliable and affordable electricity to 70% by 2030. In the interim, education vendors or NGOs working in rural areas can partner with telecommunication or software providers to bring Internet to small, remote villages. WiFi dongles available from metfone work really well on a small scale and can provide enough WiFi for a handful of students to use at the same time. More robust hardware like Brck can provide enormous connectivity opportunities for rural areas. Built specifically to connect remote areas of the world, Brck is a portable, all-in-one device. It can support up to 20 devices, has 8 hours of battery life, contains 16 GB of hard drive and GPIO pins to connect sensors and can also function as a generator.

Mobile Learning. Cambodia has a 131% mobile penetration rate. A 2014 research report from the Asia Foundation states that 24.8% of all mobile users have a smartphone. A large amount of Internet activity in Cambodia takes place on mobile phones, and the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook continue to rise. In 2014 alone, smartphone penetration has increased by 30%, making Cambodia a perfect candidate for mobile learning. Mobile learning can be a simple yet effective way of bringing education to a wider audience. Educational content providers can tap into pre-existing apps that have a large youth user base, like Facebook, to disseminate educational content. Short quizzes and educational content can even be distributed through feature phones.

Motivating Students. Poor grades are discouraging, and without proper academic support can negatively impact a student’s trajectory. Students need mental, economic and social motivation to continue their studies. Gamifying curricula by creating mobile learning competitions, similar to Learn Smart Pakistan, is a great way to attract students. Other projects like USAID’s School Dropout Prevention Pilot keep students motivated by teaching skills that are necessary in today’s world. Many emerging edtech companies are introducing creative, new age learning campaigns to motivate and excite the next generation of learners.