One of the greatest challenges facing Cambodian children, particularly those living in rural areas, is access to school. Cambodian education until the last century included mainly the memorization of Buddhist chants in local temples. The French occupation of Cambodia in the 20th century introduced the French model of education, which divided schooling into primary, secondary, higher and specialized. Despite the great improvements in literacy that resulted, the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975 brought about almost total destruction of educational progress. The Khmer Rouge closed schools, and educated people and teachers were treated very harshly. Up to 90 percent of all teachers were executed under the regime.
The Cambodian education system has faced many challenges since the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled, when it had to start again from almost nothing. Much progress was made in expanding education in the 1990s, but financial resources have been very limited. Teachers in Cambodia earn very low wages and turn to collecting informal school fees to make a living. These daily informal school fees are a major deterrent for children attending school as many families cannot afford it, particularly with an average of three children per household. Poverty is the biggest obstacle to children’s school attendance because the extra cost of and time spent attending school cancel out any extra income a child could earn, a cost most families can’t afford.
Our work in Cambodia focuses on early childhood development, enabling better access to education systems, increasing primary school enrollment and retention, expanding access to basic health care and protecting children’s rights. Through child sponsorship, we aim to provide children and their family the means to break the cycle of poverty.