World Bank Approves $100M in Loans for Schools, Rural Roads

The World Bank approved $100 million in loans to Cambodia to bolster secondary education by improving schools and educators’ qualifications, and to make rural roads more navigable and climate-resilient, according to a statement released on Friday.

The announcement came about a year after the bank lifted a freeze on funding to the country that was imposed since at least 2011 in protest of the forced eviction of 3,000 families from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood. The bank’s plan to resume funding was met with opposition from NGOs at the time.

Finance Ministry official Vongsey Vissoth welcomed the World Bank’s support, which he said was aligned with the government’s development priorities.

“These projects will indeed help strengthen the government’s efforts in improving the quality of education and transport connectivity,” Mr. Vissoth said in the statement.

One $40 million loan will fund the renovation of 100 lower-secondary schools for students in grades 7 to 9, construction of 30 new schools and development of performance standards for school administrators and teachers, especially in mathematics, sciences, Khmer language and history, the World Bank says.

Enrollment in grade-7-to-9 schools increased from 31.9 percent in 2009 to 51.5 percent in 2015, according to the bank—an improvement that nevertheless fell short of the government’s enrollment goals of about 67 percent for 2014 to 2015 and 74 percent for 2015 to 2016.

Last year, 70 percent of schools sampled by the Education Ministry and the World Bank experienced room shortages, suggesting overcrowded classrooms.

The majority of all schools don’t have enough teachers, with many educators feeling underpaid and overburdened, in addition to holding low qualifications, the World Bank says.

An Education Ministry spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In addition to the education financing scheme, a $60 million loan will fund the rehabilitation of about 250 km of rural roads in six provinces along the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap—Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Siem Reap and Kandal—and upgrade roads to withstand flooding, reduce the high costs of regular reconstruction and provide better road access to rural areas, the statement says.

In 2012, 26,900 km of rural roads out of a total 40,000 km had been rehabilitated, according to the Rural Development Ministry.

But a World Bank assessment from December said more than 80 percent of rural roads were unpaved, “causing significant problems during the wet season due to road destruction and high operation and management costs.”

The World Bank projects will be implemented by the education, rural development and finance ministries, with the loans coming from the International Development Association, the bank’s fund for poor countries, and include 38-year terms of maturity and a six-year grace period, according to the bank.

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