Early childhood education

Child-friendly schools

Ensuring sustainability

Ethnic minorities and children with disabilities


Early childhood education

Early childhood education
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod

Children absorb substantial amounts of information early on in life as they begin developing language and social skills. They are primed and eager to learn between the ages of three and five. Providing early learning and development opportunities during this time is vital to their development and serves as a springboard to academic success, as exposure to learning environments early on implants discipline and stimulates the mind. Children who attend preschool are firmly set on the primary school track, are more likely to progress well and are less likely to drop out.

However, the staggering lack of preschools in Cambodia, especially in rural areas, means that many children are deprived of this critical education jump start. Although good progress has recently been made, in the 2010/2011 school year, less than 26 per cent of children between the ages of three and five had access to early childhood development opportunities, such as community preschools, home-based education programmes and state preschools.

UNICEF’s basic education programme helps children realize their right to quality basic education by maximizing a child’s earlylearning capacity through preschool and home-based education.

What we do

  • Support local government efforts to expand communitybased preschools for children who do not have access to formal preschools. The programme targets pockets of the country with low admission and high repetition rates in primary school, and aims to improve the chances that children will enrol in primary school at the right age.
  • Support the modelling of new approaches to reduce disparities in education, such as bilingual education, preschools and integrating children with disabilities into the preschool system.
  • Advocate for policy initiatives that address the holistic development of children, including development of an Early Childhood Development National Action Plan.
  • Support home-based programmes, which train parents to create a stimulating environment at home that promotes early learning for their children.
  • Support preschool teacher training, which focuses on childcentred and holistic approaches and quality monitoring of early childhood activities.
  • Support the development and implementation of a holistic curriculum, including early stimulation of language and motor skills, as well as good hygiene and sanitation practices.

Early childhood education
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod


By the 2009/2010 school year, more children than ever before received a head start to their education through enrolment in 932 community preschool classes that benefited 21,258 children between the ages of three and five, more than half of them girls, and home-based programmes that benefited 8,920 children in eight provinces. Enrolment in early childhood education programmes increased from 10.8 per cent in the 2004/2005 school year to nearly 26 per cent in the 2010/2011 school year.

By 2006, the School Readiness Programme had expanded to cover the grade one curriculum in 12 provinces, with external evaluation demonstrating that children involved in the programme outperform others in the subjects of Khmer and mathematics. Overall, dropout rates and repetition rates also decreased in schools supported by the programme.

UNICEF has also been advocating for a holistic approach to early childhood education, and in February 2010, the Early Childhood Care and Development Policy was adopted by the government. By adopting this policy, Cambodia has demonstrated its strong commitment to establishing a comprehensive early childhood education system.





Millennium Development Goal 2: Achieving universal primary education

MDG target: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Cambodia aims to achieve this target by providing compulsory primary education for all children and reducing illiteracy by 2015.


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