Literacy Rate in Cambodia
It is estimated that over 1.7 million people died from starvation, execution, disease, and over-work during the Cambodian genocide, which took place between 1975 and 1979. It has been established that the Khmer Rouge targeted particular groups of people, among them Buddhist monks, ethnic minorities, and educated elites, who were referred to as “new people.” 1 Unlike the “base people” who joined the revolution prior to 1975, “new people” did not take part in “the struggle” to defeat the US-backed Lon Nol regime. As such, their commitment to the Party Center and its policies was considered suspect. When villages and regions were not able to fulfill the Center’s expectations for rice production, for example, the Party looked for scapegoats rather than reassessing its goals.
Literacy and other cognitive and emotional skills acquired through formal education are essential for full participation in modern society. Those without these capabilities are excluded from any but the lowliest employment in the modern economy and, since the benefits of wage-labor have positive flow-on effects to many aspects of well-being, they are among the most vulnerable in the population. As MOWA points out, the education of girls and women has a powerful trans-generational effect and is a key determinant of social development and women’s empowerment. There is increasing awareness globally that gender inequalities in education have a broad effect of household well-being as well as constrain the ability of women to contribute to economic growth and invest in human resource development, thus constraining overall macroeconomic outcomes. There are strong positive correlations between a mother’s schooling and her children’s birth weight, health and nutritional status. The Government of Cambodia has made impressive gains in public education in recent years, including narrowing the gap in educational attainment between males and females. There are nonetheless still major shortcomings to be overcome and significant regional disparities. The Cambodia Census 2008 asked a number of questions regarding literacy, educational enrolment, and educational attainment. The results provide a snapshot of the population’s current educational capabilities and help us understand the underlying social dynamics which determine how those capabilities are distributed.
Following over fifteen years of peace and prosperity which Cambodia enjoyed under the Sihanouk regime, General Lon Nol backed by the United States, seized control in a diplomatic coup d'état in March 1970 and declared the creation of the Khmer Republic. This incident may have been caused by the Prince’s foreign policy, which was interpreted as ‘practically’ supporting Communist Vietnam and angering the United States during the Vietnam War. It was the first time that Cambodia abolished its chronological monarchy. Not only was there little constructive reform during this period, but rather the country was driven to civil conflict as communism strengthened to its hold in the East and fighting in rural areas spread in early 1970s, causing barriers to schooling opportunities. In turmoil, the regime completely collapsed in April 1975 and socioeconomic achievements of the previous regime soon vanished (Dy, S. S. and Ninomiya, A.,2003). During the early 1970s Cambodia was inevitably drawn into the Vietnam War. The national instability and political turmoil led the Lon Nol regime to reduce educational funding and many school closed in rural areas. Simultaneously, many teachers fled to join the Khmer Rouge movement while student and teacher demonstrations frequently occurred in Phnom Penh. By early 1972, the United States bombardment aimed at slowing the spread of communism from the East, resulted in serious damage to the education system and infrastructure. Cambodia was eventually plunged into a complete darkness during the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, or the infamous Khmer Rouge, locally known as the Pol Pot regime which came into power in April 1975. The regime led Cambodia into revolutionary Maoist communism. Pol Pot’s so-called ‘great leap’ revolutionary regime further ravaged Cambodia through the mass destruction of individual property, schooling system, and social culture by forcing the entire population either into the army camps or onto collective farms (Chandler, 1998; Dunnett, 1993).
In conclusion, among those, 46 countries were already at gender parity 50 years ago, and 66 countries managed to close the gap between young males and females over the past decades. Countries that have made the greatest progress include: Algeria, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Malawi, Oman, Rwanda and Uganda. In these countries, the female elderly literacy rate is less than one-third the male elderly literacy rate, but among 15- to 24-year-olds gender parity has been achieved or almost achieved.
Dy, S. S. and Ninomiya, A. (2003) Basic Education in Cambodia: The impacts of UNESCO on policies in the 1990s. Education Policy Analysis Achieves, 11(48), [Online]. http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v11n48/.
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2001) Cambodia, [Online]. www.britannica.com/bcom/eb
Lockheed, M. E. and Verspoor, A. M. (1991) Improving Primary Education in Developing Countries. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.
Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (1999) Education in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Author.
Ministry of National Education of Cambodia (1956-57) Educational Progress in Cambodia. Report submitted to the 20th UNESCO International Conference on Public Education. Paris: UNESCO.
Chandler, D. P. (1998) A History of Cambodia (Rev. ed.). Chiang Mai: Silkworms.