Unesco to Push Both Adult Literacy and Preschool Education

Months away from the end of a 15-year plan to improve education in the country, officials announced Wednesday that Cambodia still needs to make strides to meet adult literacy benchmarks and set new priorities focusing on the country’s youngest students.

In 2000, Unesco set six Education for All (EFA) goals to be met by governments worldwide. Fifteen years later, Cambodia has made notable improvements, most impressively in primary school enrollment rate, which has reached 94.5 percent, Anne Lemaistre, head of Unesco in Cambodia, said at the launch of the EFA global report Wednesday.

However, Cambodia is still a long way from meeting another of the goals: adult literacy, which has led the government and Unesco to quadruple the number of literacy classes in a bid to reach 90,000 new adults this year.

“In terms of adult literacy rate, Cambodia is at 79 percent and what we would require is it to be at 84.4 percent, which we can achieve with 90,000 learners,” Ms. Lemaistre said. “This year, instead of 1000 [literacy] classes, we offer 3,800 classes.”

Although increasing adult literacy is an immediate goal, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said future goals would focus on pre-primary education—a global priority set in May during the World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea.

While the rate of enrollment for 5-year-olds has increased from 40 percent five years ago to 60 percent in 2014, Mr. Chuon Naron said more improved government was needed. “The goal is to reach 80 percent by 2018,” he said.

The education minister said that although there are about 5,300 preschools in the country, the challenge is guaranteeing the quality of education delivered at those establishments.

“Right now, some preschools use primary school teachers but that is not a good idea,” Mr. Chuon Naron said. “Every year, we train 120 preschool teachers but that is not enough to meet the demand.”

Santosh Khati, Unesco’s education specialist in Cambodia, said that the benefits of children attending preschool were well established.

“Those children who spent at least 1 year in pre-primary school have better learning skills and stay in school longer,” Mr. Khati said. “They will also free parents of looking after them, which enables parents to engage in income generating activities.”

Sar Vicheat Phak, whose brother studies in Phnom Penh’s March 8 Kindergarden School, which enrolls students between the ages of 3 and 5, said his family’s experience supported Mr. Khati’s claims.

“We are busy with our work, therefore we put him in preschool where he can learn to read, write, count numbers, so that when he goes to primary school it will be easier for him to catch up with the lessons,” he said. “He also learns to communicate with other children.”

At Wednesday’s event, Mr. Chuon Naron said the government would also focus on secondary school dropout rates, which in 2014 reached 19 percent.

“The dropout rate is higher for those that live near the garment factories, and also in the provinces near the border with Thailand due to migration,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

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