New research confirms Cambodian children experienced extensive "learning loss" during COVID-19, requiring increased investment in education

05 April 2022
© UNICEF Cambodia/2020/Antoine Raab
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/Antoine Raab

Phnom Penh, 05 April 2022  – The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has revealed alarming new findings about learning loss experienced by Cambodian students during the pandemic. The results emerged from MoEYS' latest National Grade 6 Learning Assessment, which was conducted in November 2021 and announced in March 2022 after detailed analysis. The Ministry's Education Quality Assurance Department (EQAD) assessed more than 6,000 students in 230 schools across Cambodia and found that children had fallen behind in their learning during the pandemic. Compared to the last equivalent Learning Assessment in 2016, the percentage of students who failed to demonstrate basic proficiency increased from 34% to 45% in the Khmer language and from 49% to 74% in Mathematics.

Schools in Cambodia were closed for 250 days during 2020 and 2021, the equivalent of almost two-thirds of the two school years. The Learning Assessment results reveal that although all students experienced learning loss after these closures, the impact was not evenly distributed. Boys lost more learning and performed worse in testing: 55% of boys were assessed as not meeting basic proficiency in the Khmer language in 2021, compared to 34% of girls.

The Learning Assessment was conducted in November 2021 and then analysed and published in March 2022. The assessment was conducted by MoEYS and supported by UNICEF and other Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF) partners including the European Union (EU), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Other results showed that while urban schools achieved better results than rural schools in both 2016 and 2021, they also saw more severe levels of learning loss. There was also a marked difference in the severity of loss across the two core subjects of Mathematics and the Khmer language. Mathematics results were considerably worse than Khmer results, reflecting the fact that Mathematics often requires more in-person attention and support than the Khmer language, something made much more difficult by school closures.

"These are worrying results," said H.E. Dr. HANG Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport. "We worked hard with all our partners to put in place remote learning measures for students when schools were closed during the pandemic. The studies have shown that these did help to maintain learning for many, but the Learning Assessment results confirm that these activities simply couldn't be enough to compensate for all that is lost by children when they are not learning in a classroom. It's now time for us all to try and help Cambodian children catch up with the learning they have lost, a process that has begun but must now be accelerated with the support of every partner in the education sector."

As a result of the grim findings, MoEYS hosted a Joint Technical Working Group Meeting with all of its education partners to devise a way forward. The Ministry had already taken some crucial steps, such as mandating remedial lessons as soon as schools reopened, but the Working Group agreed that these needed to be expanded and strengthened to help students catch up, with increased targeting at the most disadvantaged students who have suffered the greatest learning loss. UNICEF has worked with partners including MoEYS, Kampuchea Action to Promote Education (KAPE), VVOB and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to produce a set of print and offline resources to support remedial learning. Two thousand teachers have been trained in using these resources, but more trainers need to be instructed.

"Globally, learning loss is perceived as one of the most damaging consequences of the pandemic, but Cambodia is one of the few countries that have proved its extent with hard data. I would like to acknowledge the important step taken by MoYES to bring forth this important evidence to inform and guide the required policy and action to reverse this trend," said Foroogh Foyouzat, UNICEF Representative in Cambodia. "This includes stepping up the provision, duration and effectiveness of remedial learning. Students should receive individual support where that is required to help them catch up with their education. We must also invest more in early grade Mathematics and Khmer Literacy. Young students need a solid foundation in these core subjects for better outcomes in later grades. At UNICEF we pledge an all-out effort with all our partners to help make this happen."

MoEYS, UNICEF and Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF) partners are now working on a full report into learning loss and the measures that must be taken to address it. This report will be published in late March and will help to establish a roadmap to help students recover from the learning losses they have experienced.

Further detail on results

Urban schools saw sharper levels of learning loss, despite remaining in the lead when it came to results. For example, the number of students who didn't meet basic standards in Mathematics in urban schools rose from 30% to 62%, while in rural schools the students who didn't meet those standards rose from 54% to 77%.

More students were found to have lost ground in Mathematics than Khmer. In Mathematics, 49% of students failed to meet basic standards in 2016, compared to 74% in 2021. In Khmer the difference was less extreme: 34% didn't meet basic standards in 2016, compared to 45% in 2021.

Note to Editors: 
The "Learning Loss in the Covid-19" report is available for download from this link.

About CDPF
The Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF) is a partnership between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia (MoEYS), the European Union (EU), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF.  Through a pooled funding mechanism, the CDPF provides support to implement capacity development priorities in the education sector. The CDPF entered its third phase in 2018, which will continue until June 2023, supporting capacity building initiatives in the education sector with approximately US$37 million. This new phase builds on the successes of the previous two phases, implemented since 2011 for a total additional amount of US$24 million.

For more information, please contact

  • H.E. Dr. ROS Soveacha
    MoEYS Spokesperson 
    Tel: +855 78 755 556
  • Rudina Vojvoda
    Chief of Communication UNICEF Cambodia
    Tel: +855 92 555 294
  • Mr. Bunly Meas
    Communication Specialist
    UNICEF Cambodia
    Tel: +855 12 733 909

Media contacts

Rudina Vojvoda
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=434
Bunly Meas
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=435


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