Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What I've been up to....

This week has been a fairly slow, uneventful one. Probably a good thing because I've become an insomniac for some reason. Either I can't get to sleep until 2 or 3, or if I do, I wake up at 2 or 3 ready to go. So I've been just kind of dragging though my days. Maybe it's some sort of really, really delayed jet lag?
I have been working pretty hard all week though with the current work project being this draft education law. All week I've been voraciously reading everything I can get my hands onto about education in Cambodia, and today I'll be typing up a little report on why the new law needs to have a compulsory education requirement. To tell you the truth, after all of my research I've come to the conclusion that while such a requirement is needed, it is also unrealistic to expect the country to meet it. When parents simply cannot afford to send their children to school because 1) they are hit with high costs for uniforms, books, and fees to teachers (who are incredibly underpaid to the tune of around $20/mo. in many cases and for the most part completely unqualified) and 2) cannot afford the opportunity costs of sending children to school who could be working, especially girls who have numerous domestic duties if nothing else. On the costs, for example, it is estimated that private expenditure for having one child in primary school represents 79% of the per capita non-food expenses of the poorest 20% of the population. So now what if you have two children? Choices have to be made, and girls are kept at home. Also, the per capita cost of secondary education is between two and seven times greater than the non-food consumption expenditure of the poorest 20%. So you can see why only 2% of the students in the upper secondary come from the poorest 20%.
This is just one of the obstacles standing in the way. Others include: 1) distance to schools (parents are less likely to want to send girls longer distances as well because of the perceived danger), 2) lack of toilets (seems like a small thing but with 65% of primary schools not having a toilet when girls hit puberty and toilets are shared or non-existent modesty becomes an issue), and 3) pupil-teacher ratios of over 50. So clearly, until some of these obstacles are at least lessened, a compulsory education requirement is not going to accomplish much.
However, I would still argue that it is necessary to put it into the law because it demonstrates the commitment of the government to making education a priority in the country. In addition, it is required by international human rights standards. Also, the Cambodian Constitution has a provision stating that "the State shall provide primary and secondary education to all citizens in publi schools. The citizens shall receive education for at least 9 years." This does not create a compulsory system (although some have interpreted it that way), but shows some level of commitment that should be solidified in the education law.
So that's what I've been up to. Next Tuesday is a public hearing in the Senate that they're calling "Education for Sustainable Development." Between now and then Doris is trying to set up meetings for us with UNICEF (UN Children's Fund), UNESCO (UN's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), UNIAP (UN Inter-Agency Program) and ADB (Asian Development Bank) so that we can develop a united front to show at this meeting in trying to get this law amended. The law is currently before the National Assembly, and it becomes very difficult to get a law changed at this stage, as I've discussed previously. So it's pretty exciting and interesting, and that said...I guess I should get back to my work so I'm prepared with something for these meetings. Wish us luck!

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