Cambodia: Accessible Education Attracts Female Students Back to School

Cambodia’s Education Sector Support Project assists the government with its goal of expanding access to educational services by addressing constraints in supply, demand, quality and efficiency, and it has a special focus on poor and under-served communities.
* Women have particularly benefited: 67% of secondary school scholarships have been awarded to women. In primary school, almost 50% of the scholars are women.
* The project has helped build 247 lower secondary school buildings, with 650 more planned.

A dream of going back to school has come true for 23-year-old Van Sarem. Now she sits in the front row of her grade 8 class at a new secondary school in Sre Ang Krong commune by the Se San River in Ratanakiri province, excited and delighted to be back learning after a five-year absence since she finished primary school in 2004.

“My dream has come true now,” she says with a beautiful smile. “I am so happy that I have a chance to come back to school even though I am older. And my parents support my return to school.”

Sarem is from one of the poorest families in Sre Ang Krong village. When she finished studying at the local primary school, her family did not have the money to send her to the nearest secondary school, which was more than 20 km away. She dropped out of school for five years.

When Sarem saw a new school beginning to be built near her home, she began to hope that one day she would have a chance to be a pupil there when it opened. Whenever she walked by the building site, she willed the school to be finished sooner. Early last year she approached the new school’s principal and asked if she could register to be one of its first students.

The new secondary school in Sre Ang Krong is a product of two nationwide school building programs supported by the World Bank that are playing a crucial role in enabling young people, especially women, who have dropped out of school to resume their education.

The Education Sector Support Project (ESSP), which the World Bank supports, has built 247 lower secondary schools, and the Education Sector Support Scale-Up Action Program (ESSSUAP), supported by multiple donors and administered by the World Bank, plans to construct 650 school buildings throughout Cambodia.

The large number of schools being built around the country under the ESSP and ESSSUAP programs opens up the real possibility for young women like Sarem to go back to school and finish their education.

Of 205,151 scholarship students at secondary school, 67 percent are female. These are supported by the ESSP. Almost 50 percent out of 3,459 scholarship students at primary school are female and these are supported by ESSSUAP.

School construction has also helped women teachers to stay in their home areas as there is more local work than before. This means that many more female teachers can stay in the profession and thus have a greater opportunity to enhance their careers as well as be role models for girls.

“If girls are well educated, they will have the basic knowledge to support their families through a better understanding of health care and confidence in themselves which in turn can encourage siblings and their own children to attend school,” said H.E. Ou Eng, ESSP Project Manager. “This will have a cumulative effect over time and help to reduce poverty caused by poor understanding of basic health care, literacy and numeracy.

“One of the most important benefits is the fact that it gives a strong message to the community that the education of girls is a national priority,” he said. “This not only improves the educational opportunities for girls but also raises their status in the community.”