We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Evaluation database

Evaluation report

1999 Cambodia: Student Repetition in Cambodia: Causes, Consequencs, and its Relationship to Learning

Author: Bredenberg, K.; Kampuchean Action for Primary Education

Executive summary


Many education programs have been implemented in the absence of a strong empirical base of information specific to the Cambodian context. This study is especially relevant now because the Ministry is currently considering a number of policy changes through which to reduce the very high rate of repetition in primary schools, notably in the lower primary grades.

Purpose / Objective

The present study was commissioned by UNlCEF/Sida in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MoEYS) in order to inform efforts to formulate effective policiesand interventions for reducing student repetition in Cambodian primary schools. In addition to developing a number of recommendations for the Ministry to consider, the study has attempted to provide an empiricalbasis for better understanding of student repetition in Cambodia.

The formal objectives of the current study have been formulated as follows:
- To determine the relationships between primary level repetition and important factors such as socio-economic background of students, the effects of technical assistance, the quality of educational services and evaluation practices, school and cluster management practices; and parents', teachers', and students' perceptions of repetition
- To identify the socio-economic characteristics and sex of the children most likely to repeat
- To analyze the consequences of the high degree of student repetition with respect to the effects on students and the efficiency of the educational system
- To present sound recommendations for long- and short-term strategies though which to reduce repetition


The content of this study includes an overview of the repetition phenomenon in Cambodia, a brief survey of repetition issues found in the literature, and some interesting lessons learned from other countries. A survey was conducted of 18 schools in 5 provinces, and Phnom Penh selected to provide a range in respect to urban/rural areas, minority/majority groups, assisted/unassisted schools and geographical locations divided into West, Central Plains, and Northeast. Grades 1, 2 and 3 were selected as 93% of primary school children who repeated a grade in the 1998-9 academic year were in one of these three grades. It should be noted that the general problem of repetition in all grades is still undertaken by the study in its general overview of the problem and in the examination of province-wide reported data, but not as a matter of original field-based empirical inquiry.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Promotional decision-making practices were found to be highly variable with a mix of both creative and arbitrary approaches being employed by the schools surveyed. Several official criteria (such as attendance and behavior) are often ignored by most teachers who appear to be the primary promotional decision-makers in the schools. Student with passing marks are sometimes repeated and those with failing marks sometimes promoted. Actual practice clearly seems to be adrift with an acute need for a restatement of documented guidelines to inform the promotional decision-making process.

A regression analysis identified predictors for repetition as attendance, times previously repeated, premature enrollment, and school governance. It was found that attendance mediates the effects of a number of other important variables commonly associated with repetition, including levels of parental education, family income, minority/majority language and urban/rural residence. Technically assisted schools are better managed and have higher repetition rates. Unassisted schools were found to have weaker evaluation practices, poorer management and higher promotion rates. But, more of these promoted students in unassisted schools failed externally-administered achievement test than was true in assisted schools. The effect of technical assistance on promotion rates and achievement test results raises serious questions about the meaningfulness of repetition data as a valid indicator of educational attainment.

An investigation of the attitudes of parents, teachers, and school directors showed surprising uniformity on a number of important points. These included attributing the primary cause of repetition to families' lack of monetary rescues and their failure to value education. Only a minority of teachers (22%) acknowledge the overriding primacy of poor attendance as a leading cause of repetition. Education stakeholders also seemed to agree that the best approaches to reducing repetition should stress out-of-school factors.

An important point of some divergence in views relates to the effectiveness of repetition as an intervention that improves student learning. Parents were split in their views as to its effectiveness, with those with positive views outnumbering those with negative views by a slight margin. Among teachers and directors, the opposite was true, with more of both groups having a more negative view.

Interviews with repeaters and dropouts were somewhat hampered by the students' bias to give socially-acceptable responses. When asked to describe their view of life, 56.5% of dropouts used negative words whereas this was true of only 33.4% of repeaters. When using words to describe their view of the school, both groups used positive words by an overwhelmingly large margin (90% among repeaters and 78% among dropouts). From these and similar response patterns, dropouts seemed to have lives tinged by despair by a margin somewhat larger than repeaters. The majority of repeaters maintained that repeating had helped them "learn more."

A review of the consequences of repetition revealed a startling level of added costs to stakeholders, especially to governments and households. Based on 1999 data, added costs, both direct and indirect, were estimated to exceed $40,000,000 in the last academic year alone.


Organization and management of interventions
Establish a student repetition national taskforce
Develop district and provincial repetition profiles to inform local planning and problem identification
Systematize, rationalize and formalize the criteria that guide promotional decision-making
Review evaluation practices and grading guidelines used in schools
Specific interventions to be considered:
Greater enforcement of age rule for enrollment
Expanding pre-school access for specific groups at high risk
Consider automatic promotion as a secondary strategy only
Community-based attendance tracking system
Attendance incentives

Full report in PDF

PDF files require Acrobat Reader.



Report information





Education - Other

Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports


Follow Up:


Sequence Number:

New enhanced search