Way Forward of Access to the Educational System in Cambodia

Welcome to our blog, the Human Righter. We shed light on contemporary human rights issues and comment on human rights developments. We dig deep into our focus areas within human rights, discuss SDGs and human rights. You will also find book reviews and analyses of new laws.

This blog post was written by Rachana NaryIntern at the Phnom Penh Office

Education is a big and long-term investment in exchange for human resources and development. Everyone deserves to be educated because education is a part of human right and public goods. Nevertheless, millions of children, youths and adults around the world are still left behind from education opportunities. Sometimes, the right to education is violated due to situations, such as poverty, which has contributed to the rate of illiteracy remaining high. As education should be significantly prioritized, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has declared 24th January as International Day of Education as a day to celebrate and promote the roles of education in development and peace. In 2023, the fifth celebration of the International Day goes under the theme “to invest in people, prioritize education”.

The education system in Cambodia is now stepping forward despite many barriers. As stated by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the right to education and right to life are the top priority for Cambodia. A way forward for economic growth and state development, the resources and efforts are needed through education. Thus, Cambodia has been trying hard to maintain the quality of education along with the accelerating technology and modernization.

Momentum of Education

Beginning with the staring-point after the ending of Khmer Rouge regime was difficult for a small state like Cambodia. All sectors that facilitated national growth had been destroyed. The education system fully vanished during that time. Cambodia was struggling with the high rate of illiteracy and others domestic crisisis. Nevertheless, we have noticed the speedy recovery and development of the country in the last two decades. With efforts from the government and cooperation from external actors, education has been improving gradually from the lower to the higher educational levels. It surely provides many opportunities for young people to invest in their studies.

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it has been actively working on supporting education in Cambodia for years. USAID provided training to teachers, study materials, as well as financial support to children and households in need. In 2020, the primary enrollment rate was around 97 percent. In 2021, the government had invested around 18 percent of the national budget in the educational sector. Technology has been playing important roles in facilitating easy and modern modes of learning. Students have easy access to a variety of information and documents on the internet. It is believed that technology is one of the dominant tools to ameliorate in various sectors including industrial, medical, information communication, and even education. This has pushed Cambodia to incline toward technological and digital areas. Starting from an early stage, the country has begun to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, starting from the upper secondary level.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has provided a 70 million dollars loan to Cambodia to implement STEM education nationwide. It is believed that STEM offers opportunities for young people to be innovative and creative. While simultaneously improving their capabilities, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, proficiency, professionalism, and technological skills. Specifically, New Generation School (NGS) is a new change in learning styles and environment with the emphasis on STEM and high quality of learning which students can experience a lot new things.


Despite tremendous progress in education, many children are still falling behind depending on their livelihoods. To be able to get educated, adequate financial support from parents is significant. However, it is hard for children who are living in rural areas and with limited financial support. Children in rural areas are most likely to give up or do not want to continue their education. This is due to family conditions, poverty, safety, infrastructure, quality of teaching and learning, and lack of access to proper learning materials.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), in 2017 and 2018, only 43 percent of children (aged 3 to 5 years) were enrolled in early childhood education. Sometimes, young adults by the age of 17 will likely drop out of school. Another concern is the gap of opportunity between children who live in urban and rural areas. This could lead to inequality in access to proper education.

Significantly, almost everything in the educational system is accessible and convenient for children in the urban areas or the city, but not in the rural areas or in the provinces. In order to strengthen the quality of higher education, it is a must to start with a good foundation. The majority of the students from the provinces or rural areas who wish to pursue higher education lack opportunities due to financial need, low academic performance, difficulties in adjusting to urban lifestyle, and even languages. Some of the students who want to pursue a higher education need to travel to the city. Even though there are universities in the provinces or the near their areas of living, the quality of teaching and learning, administration and exchange of information are difficult and limited compared to those in the urban areas.

Invest in people and education

Investing in people and in education is a matter of time and effort. To successfully reinforce a higher education level, the quality of early education is correlated, which should be taken as an important issue. Strong leadership and a well mastered plan are highly demanded. The government has been trying to minimize the barriers, elevating the educational system in Cambodia.

A spokesperson from the Education Ministry stated that the areas that should, and need to be reformed includes; prioritizing school reforms, teacher training, promoting digital learning, STEM education, improving health infrastructure, food security, improving qualification of trainers, professors and strengthening the areas of system building and capacity development.

Most of the students lack the financial resources to continue studying, therefore reformation alone is not enough. However, reformation must make sure that everyone still has opportunities to learn. Providing scholarships is one of the best solutions to help students with financial needs. It encourages them to have a positive thinking about learning and to pursue their goals. On the other hand, a crucial act by all intellectuals, scholars, parents, and citizens is to encourage and promote the importance of education to children and young people. This is so that they can be ready to learn and understand the long-term benefits of having an education.

Education is the priority of almost every country. Without it, there would be either no or slow progress in development. That is why the UN focuses on the International Day of Education to raise awareness and discuss issues with any possible solutions. To promote the right to education and freedom of studying, the action should be carried out now.

Share with your friends