Childhood Development in Cambodia (Part 2) - Education and leaving the most vulnerable behind - EmbraceAbility
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Childhood Development in Cambodia (Part 2) – Education and leaving the most vulnerable behind

Childhood Development in Cambodia (Part 2) – Education and leaving the most vulnerable behind

While household income serves as a basic indicator of poverty levels within any given area or country, it is safe to say that our analysis of poverty has become a little more sophisticated in recent years. Using the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), introduced by the UNDP in 2010, we can assess and understand how people experience poverty in a multitude of ways, which can appear together or in isolation. For Cambodia, development efforts have seen multidimensional poverty fall sharply. However, the problem is far from solved with many social groups remaining poor in one or more poverty dimensions. Today, we look at how seeming advances in education standards continue to leave children with disabilities behind.


Understanding education as a dimension of poverty

The MPI goes beyond income statistics to analyse poverty using the 3 important dimensions: health, education and living standards. If a person is deemed to be lacking in any one of these areas, they are classed as multidimensionally poor. According to a recent statement from the UNDP, 35% of people in Cambodia remain in multidimensional poverty despite trends of national poverty reduction.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have coaxed governments into action that has garnered impressive results worldwide. However, to reach the goal of “leave no one behind” by 2030, the paces must quicken. The strength of the MPI is that it breaks down poverty into key components that can be targeted by dedicated development efforts. For people living in poverty, it is not enough to simply increase the household income. Achieving sustainable, long lasting development in any one dimension requires a tailored and well-researched approach. Looking beyond the veneer of progress in the Cambodian educational system, we must identify what more can be done for those who are falling behind.


Leaving the most vulnerable behind

The transformation of Cambodia’s education system is widely considered a success story. Having started ‘from scratch’ following its complete destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the 70s, nationwide access to education has increased significantly.

While there are more Cambodian children in school than ever before – net primary enrolment having increased from 87% to 98% between 2001 and 2015 – the most vulnerable remain excluded from classrooms all over the country. According to UNICEF, children with disabilities are still among those most likely to be excluded from places of learning, with little difference between boys and girls. What simple lessons can we learn from UNICEF’s report and others like it?

While these findings are disconcerting, reports of this kind are extremely important to efforts of national change. At the core of education policy and schooling is the Cambodian government, without whom the system itself would collapse. Taking an honest and unblinkered look at the facts surrounding education helps to strengthen national capacity ie the government’s ability to implement positive, sustainable change. The publication of research by NGOs such as UNICEF and others, together with open dialogue and cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is the only way to truly promote inclusivity from the top down. Perhaps appearing critical, the goal of all research surrounding education should be to support the Cambodian government in developing policies that aim to include more children with disabilities into school classrooms. As anyone in the international development community will tell you, we will get nowhere alone.


Educational standards and training

An increase in access to education does not necessarily mean there are improvements to the quality of teaching available. This is especially important when considering children with disabilities in the classroom setting whose needs may be more diverse. According to a 2018 UNICEF report,

Cambodia’s impressive journey in increasing access to education, improvements in the quality of education have not kept pace with these changes. Issues such as the lack of teacher capability, ineffective instruction methods, and limited community involvement in schools affect children’s ability to learn effectively and achieve their full potential.

Plans are currently in motion for the implementation of the South East Asia Primary Learning Metrics Assessment System in Khmer and Mathematics. This will help break down problems associated with teaching quality, classroom practices, developing children’s learning outcomes and the current national curriculum. However, there have been no measures specified for the development of teaching methods relevant to disability. Without teachers who can confidently cater to students with disabilities, a child’s experience in the classroom could be extremely isolating and ineffective.

For now, this responsibility falls to NGOs. The sharing of skill sets and knowledge between organisations who involve themselves in education in Cambodia at any level is crucial. Reports by the Global Partnership for Education, The World Bank, UNICEF, OIC and others provide more and more insight into what it takes to increase inclusivity in the classroom setting. With training and mentorship programmes under development, its time we listen and learn from each other. Ultimately, building the capacity of children with disabilities and their teachers, giving them confidence to attend and engage with an inclusive education set a powerful examples to be followed.

Utilising MPI, we are able to view poverty through a much narrower analytical lens. In this case, we see that the state of education is far more complex than a collection of broad attendance statistics that boast success. This is a practice that should be adopted with all things – looking beyond the surface to understand a system’s issues and its roots. The progress made in education in Cambodia has not been progress for all, with children with disabilities left behind. This clearly illustrates that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is inadequate where people have different needs. Without education, those most vulnerable in Cambodia will remain in poverty. Only through targeted and well researched development initiatives can we hope to improve access to education for children with disabilities, across a range of geographical locations and socio-economic statuses. A long road perhaps, but empowering these children as ambassadors for change and making them visible to all is the key to provoking change – from the very top levels of government, to the grassroots teachers who adopt responsibility on the ground.

by Oliver King, Director of Advocacy