UK Tutoring Services Cambodia, Learning English, Phnom Penh

Never Stop Learning

Unusual sight in Cambodia of adults and children learning together. Human rights in 2003.

Unusual sight in Cambodia of adults and children learning together. Human rights in 2003..

Adult Education In Cambodia

When 56 year old Hem Sinath failed her 2022 Baccalauréat, and vowed to try again, it broke as a news story across Cambodia. Unlike the youngest student to pass at the age of 13¼ years, Heur Tieng Kim Hong, Sinath didn’t get to meet the Prime Minister.

Yet she and others like her should be given every encouragement. Cambodia has paid much attention to developing its education system in recent years. The private sector at school and university levels has flourished while the public sector is still recovering from its demise during the Khmer Rouge era and with the extra numbers from the baby boom since.

Education for children, not adults?

It is therefore no surprise that “adult education” provisions have not been prioritised. In truth most Cambodians see education as something for children rather than the life-long process and commitment that it is for all of us. This helps to explain its demise. In fact I wonder how many people even know that there is a “Community Learning Centre (CLC)” near them for this precise purpose.

The most blatant gaps are being plugged on an ad hoc basis usually to address specific needs and often with external support for funding of resources and teachers or trainers. Given the parlous low literacy and numeracy rates at the end of the conflict, these have been some of the more obvious classes. Non-government organisations (NGOs) offer them as adjuncts to community development and of late of their gender empowerment initiatives. Girls and women traditionally missed out on their education more so than boys and men. Other major skills and knowledge needs included for example human rights awareness, indeed it was a key element of the UNTAC era that ushered in peace in the 1990s.

Yet vocational or vocationally-orientated skills are still absent, mainly, I would suggest because employers have not yet pushed for them or offered to take leads.

Breaking molds?

A few weeks I ago I was surprised to see one private company providing handouts of instant noodle, and tinned-fish as part of its “Corprorate Social Responsibility” (CSR) program. This kind of patronage is a familiar sight with politicians. A more CSR sustainable approach would be to sponsor CLCs and specific classes that would help these same families to work their own way out-of-poverty. It is a proven fact worldwide that education is the main key to development and sustainable livelihoods.

Cambodia’s policy towards adult education is fine. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport does have a Department of Non-Formal Education but it depends very much on external partners, international agencies like UNESCO and NGOs that have adult education in their missions. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning provides good blue-prints.

It is of course the lack of year-on-year funding amid other greater priorities that limits the good policy from being fulfilled. In some ways it is an old policy not a new one.

Unusual sight in Cambodia of adults and children learning together. Human rights in 2003.

Savoueng as a pagoda boy many years ago..

Informal education has been given from time immemorial by tradition to boys in Buddhist Pagodas. Indeed one of my most successful former employees, from a poor household and disabled, kindly shared his picture of days there. Prime Minister Hun Sen of course also received his early education in the same way.

Even today such outlets are just about the only such provision outside the public, private and externally-led NGO sectors.

Employers to rise to challenges?

It would be good for the many and growing Chambers of Trade in Cambodia to consider supporting a new form of organisation to work with the Ministry, and to advance the provision of education and training to address the undoubted skills shortage of their members. It is not a great deal of money and much less than the numerous “capacity-building” conferences and workshops at 5 star hotels.

One I have in mind is an equivalent to the likes of the UK’s Workers Education Association. Indeed if you examine even today the courses they offer and to read the personal case-studies, there is much in common with Cambodia. This is so even for certain sectors already identified with the most severe shortages now and in the foreseeable future. Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) and foreign languages like English and Chinese will always be in demand.

Please remember too that the objective is not just to plug those gaps today but to have a workforce and key employees who continue to develop, to be teachable and to be willing to learn.
Life-long learning in practice.


Article by John Lowrie - John Lowrie is an overseas development and human rights advocate, retired but still active, based in UK and Cambodia.

Apply Online Now

* These fields are required.

See our Latest Google Reviews

UKTS Google Reviews