Early childhood education

Child-friendly schools

Ensuring sustainability

Ethnic minorities and children with disabilities


Child-friendly schools

Education for all through child-friendly schools
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod

Thirty years ago, Cambodia emerged from a brutal regime that resulted in complete destruction of schools. Since then, rebuilding the country’s educational system has been a top priority, and considerable improvements have been made. However, despite these efforts, Cambodia’s education sector remains blemished by limited access to quality instruction, inadequate school facilities and high dropout rates. Access to and completion of primary school, in particular, remain a pressing dilemma, as poverty and opportunity costs channel many children away from school, with many children as young as 12 years old entering the labour market. 

Late enrolment magnifies the problem by decreasing a child’s chances of staying in school. Across the country, more than half of 12 to 14 year olds are in primary school and struggle to keep up with their younger peers.

Schools themselves also present barriers to learning. In 2010/2011, an estimated 17 per cent of Cambodia’s primary schools did not offer the full six grades. In the schools that do, fewer than half of children enrolled in grade 1 are expected to complete their primary education. Cambodia’s quality of education relating to teacher qualifications, effective teaching methods, school management and community involvement reduces incentives for children to stay in school and limits the impacts of learning once they are there. Lack of water and sanitation only heightens these obstacles to education, with 34 per cent of primary schools lacking drinking water and another 21 per cent functioning without toilets.

The Government’s Education Strategic Plan aims to expand and improve early childhood education programmes while raising the quality of education and ensuring girls and ethnic minority and disabled children, in particular, have access to free compulsory basic education. While the government has made great gains in getting more kids in school, challenges remain in keeping them there and ensuring they are actually learning in class.

UNICEF works with government partners to strengthen capacities at the national and sub-national levels to deliver inclusive basic education. We also complement the work of organizations such as Save the Children and Kampuchean Action for Primary Education to improve the quality of education and increase enrolment of children in school.

What we do

  • Support the government to develop Child-Friendly Schools that prioritize children’s well-being and cultivate creativity by fostering inspiring learning environments, achieve gender balance, engage communities and families and ban corporal punishment. The initiative aims to get all school-age children into classrooms, despite their circumstances, and improve the quality of teaching and learning.
  • Support community mapping measures led by local government to help identify children who are not in school and work with parents to advocate for enrolment.
  • Assist with the development and distribution of appropriate learning materials by child-friendly teachers trained to engage children in lessons and use appropriate language.
  • Support the Ministry of Education to adapt and implement the Child-Friendly Schools approach at the lower-secondary level.

Education for all through child-friendly schools
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod


UNICEF supported the piloting of Child-Friendly Schools in six provinces. Integration of this approach in the pre-service teacher training curriculum at all 18 teacher-training colleges as well as training for school directors and teachers on childcentred education has enhanced the quality of learning for children. By the 2007/2008 school year, the Child-Friendly Schools Initiative had already reached its 2010 target of 70 per cent of schools in six provinces, catalysing a national expansion to cover remaining provinces, along with the School Readiness Programme, which is a “catch-up” programme for grade 1 students who missed out on preschool.

Though the expansion and improvement of Child-Friendly Schools, children are getting a better education and making optimal use of their time in class. The Cambodian Government has adopted Child-Friendly Schools as a national education policy, working to ensure that all children across the country receive quality education.





child-Friendly schools

Child-Friendly Schools address persistent challenges in the education system through a holistic approach to child development and learning. The Child-Friendly Schools model in Cambodia promotes the following six core dimensions:
1. All children have access to schooling (schools are inclusive).
2. Effective teaching and learning.
3. Health, safety and protection of children.
4. Gender responsiveness.
5. Children, families and communities participate in running their local school.
6. The National Education System supports and encourages schools to become more child-friendly.

 Email this article

unite for children