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‘New Voices’: Poor Education Hurts Economic Growth

The annual survey by the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, which questioned 726 teachers across 17 provinces, also found a majority who believed the education system has “no quality.”
Economic growth has a close correlation with the quality of education, and not its quantity, a graduate student at the University of Chicago says.

Veth Sokly, who is at the university on a Fulbright scholarship, told “New Voices” that a quality education can bring about sustainable, inclusive growth.

It can especially help in competitive business environments, she said. This will be important as Asean heads toward more economic integration, she said.

While education for all has been introduced in Cambodia, more needs to be done toward offering equal access to quality education, she said. Meanwhile, parents who can afford it tend toward investment in higher education, while paying less attention to formative and mid-level education.

“The strategic plan toward improving quality education should seek an increase in teachers’ pay and expectations for teachers’ performance, compensatory wages for rural teachers, and training on both subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge,” Veth Sokly said. “In pursuit of improving the quality of education, the government has to first measure quality of education, and participate in international tests, such as [the Program for International Student Assessment], as most other Asean countries do.”

The government needs to evaluate its progress toward policy objectives, she said.

Ear Sophal, a Cambodian-American analyst and author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia,” said that the high number of higher education institutions in Cambodia may mean that there are too many. And that can hurt the quality, he said. Meanwhile, rampant cheating on exams, which is common across the country, further devalues the quality of education, he said.

“So, I am not surprised at all the quality of schooling isn’t adequate for the jobs that are now required of young people in Cambodia,” he said.

Employers are now facing gaps with new employees who must be brought up to speed once they are hired, he said. Industries would rather have graduates that can add value to their bottom line and increase profits. So they are in the best position to ask for the skills they need, something universities should heed, he said.

“They can work with universities to produce the kinds of graduates they need, and then automatically hire the graduates of those programs,” Ear Sophal said. “If a partnership between industries and universities could be created, that would be a solution going forward.”

Reform needs to come at all levels of education, focusing on quality and the needs of industries, he said. Education needs to reach a level where one no longer has to simply work in order to survive, but to create things and to be creative, he said.

Vichet Sen, a doctoral student in education at British Columbia University, in Canada, told VOA Khmer in a phone interview that the government’s accreditation committee is responsible for assuring the quality of education.

“Applicants must be strictly reviewed, whether they meet all requirement in terms of resources, facilities, building and campus for setting up a university” Vichet Sen said. “In the reality, we can see they don’t meet the requirements, but they still can open a university.”

He suggests that the accreditation committee learn from countries in the region about how to improve education quality.