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Poor Governance at Root of Cambodia’s Education Problems, Expert Says

Students at En Komar Primary School in Kampong Thom province have receive breakfast on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The breakfasts are part of a World Food Program initiative that aims to feed 3.5 million students by 2016.

Poor governance and uneven distribution of wealth to rural communities are both behind Cambodia’s poor record of girls’ education, an expert says.

Despite the country’s high economic growth rate in recent years, few opportunities are available in rural areas, which leads to girls dropping out of school to help earn money in impoverished families, said Ok Sorei Sopheak, a specialist in good governance.

“The problem does not exist in cities, but in rural areas,” he told “Hello VOA” Monday. “Distance from school, difficult living conditions and safety are the factors.”

Economic worries can force parents to stop sending their children to school, especially girls, but there are other factors, he said, including bribes required by underpaid teachers.

The habit of reading at the library is not yet popular, he said, because there is no real incentive to do so or encouragement from school administrators.

Dropout rates remain high: just 20 out of 100 students registered in Cambodian primary schools are able to finish 9th grade.

Ok Serei Sopheak said programs like free food at school, scholarships and free bikes for transportation can all be incentives to keep people in school. Improved economics would help, he said, as would the distribution of wealth to poor families.

Meanwhile, the ministries of Interior and Education could begin research to identify students in poverty and target them for help in their studies, he said.