© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
More children in Cambodia are entering school and the gender gap is quickly closing as more girls make their way to the classroom. In the 2010/2011 school year, the overall rate of children enrolled in primary school was 95.2 per cent (95.8 per cent for boys and 94.6 per cent for girls), showing that the gender gap at primary level has essentially been eliminated.
However, these gains are undermined by persistent challenges that affect a child’s ability to stay in school and conceal regional disparities. While Cambodian children are filling the seats in primary schools, completion rates for primary, and particularly lower secondary education, are low. Poverty pushes many students out of school as many parents, especially in rural areas, cannot afford the direct and indirect costs related to education and families often require children to help at home with chores and field work.
Lack of quality of education in schools, leading to high rates of repetition, also contributes to high dropout rates, particularly at the primary school level. Repeating grades results in a significant proportion of overage children in primary schools, preventing children from reaching the transition to secondary school at an age where it still makes sense to continue in education.
Challenges multiply for children in rural and remote regions, especially those from ethnic minorities, who lack access to consistent, quality education. In the 2008/2009 school year, nearly half of children in remote areas admitted to grade one were over the age of six, compared to 29 per cent in urban areas. Meanwhile, preschool and other early education opportunities remain largely out of reach for most children, especially those outside of urban centres.
Scaling up the Child-Friendly School approach enables Cambodia to adjust traditional teaching methods to more child-centred and child-friendly teaching and learning practices, laying an educational foundation in which children are stimulated and equipped with the necessary critical thinking skills that will influence future potential. Even though good progress has been made, learning by rote, in which children are taught to merely repeat after their teachers without understanding context, still continues to be practiced.
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