Education: A look into Cambodian History

Money can be taken away from you but your knowledge can never be stolen’   (Scholar’s mother)Traditionally primary education was offered to male Cambodians by Buddhist Men (monks). The Cambodian males received teachings about life, family and society with basic literacy and numeracy skills, in return for living and working in the temples. This education was financed by the villagers and communities showing the importance of education for Cambodians at this time.

After the colonisation by the French in 1863, there was still little implementation of a ‘modern’ education system in the early 1900s, with the system only available to the elite. The fear of what educated Cambodians may be capable of is one of the main factors behind the resistance in establishing an education system.

It wasn’t until the after the independence from France that the education system began to develop where schools and universities were constructed. Prince Sihanouk started to rebuild the schools, with the guidance of the UNESCO and by the late 1960’s one million children were enrolled in the primary school system.

During the Khmer Rouge of 1975-1979, estimates of around 75 to 85 percent of the teachers and higher education students fled or were killed. All education standards beyond the lowest of grades were eradicated; Cambodia lost nearly three quarters of its educated people during this period.

In terms of education history, Cambodia has only been in a peaceful state since 1998, during that time the hope and determination of the people has shown they hold great importance in educating the future generations. There is still a long way to go, however the Cambodian people are definitely moving forward.

The present issues that affect the quality and accessibility of education in Cambodia are the high drop-out rates (generally caused by the children needed to find work and money), the travel time (for both the teachers and the students), and the infrastructure in the schools.

The World Bank (2004) states that the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sport are working towards the goals of:

  • Achieving universal enrolment and completion of primary education, and increasing access to and completion of lower secondary school to move towards universal completion of nine years of basic education; and
  • Improving the quality of all nine years of basic education


This Life Cambodia’s work with Education

“This Life Cambodia works to improve the quality of and access to education in Cambodia by listening to, engaging with and advocating alongside communities.”

The aim of the Student Assistance Program (SAP), started in 2008, is to increase educational opportunities for marginalised students, so that they can develop the essential skills and knowledge to make positive changes in their lives and break free from poverty.

Student Assistance Program Goals:

  1. To provide the necessary package of support and resources (including a bicycle, school materials and uniform, private tutoring fees, one-on-one support and medical expenses) to enable poor students to access education.
  2. To provide solar-lamp kits to scholarship families to help increase family productivity and opportunities for students to study at night.
  3. To provide second-hand bicycles for poor students, so that they can get to school easily.
  4. To increase employment opportunities for two poor high-school graduates, by providing 2-year Internships that involve a University Scholarship and on-the-job training at TLC.


Student Scholarship Project

The main goal of the Student Scholarship Project is to support and reintegrate students back into the public education system. This is achieved by alleviating the financial burden associated with schooling, therefore improving the access to education for poor families. This Life Cambodia’s Student Scholarship Project provides all the necessary materials for our scholars such as:  notebooks, text books, bag, shoes, uniforms, pens, pencil, pencil case, a bike for transportation, bicycle maintenance and repair fee, private tutoring class fee, mentoring and consultancy.


Results of TLC SAP Program

Since the establishment of This Life Cambodia Student Assistance Program, 70 students have received support through the scholarship program from both lower and upper secondary school levels. This Life Cambodia currently supports 37 students.

86% of the students who were enrolled in Grade 12 have passed their exams, which is an increase of 0.29% from the previous year. This year the Student Assistance Program sponsored 6 students from Siem Reap Town through Grade 12 of whom all have passed with a good result in level “D”.

This is a great step forward to a brighter life for these students as well as movements towards a higher quality education system for all Cambodian children. For the future generations to see these young Cambodians completing their education years is of great benefit, showing the importance education holds.


Sideth, S (2004) ‘Strategies and Policies for Basic Education in Cambodia: Historical Perspective’, International Education Journal, Vol 5, no 1, pg 90-97

The World Bank (2004) ‘Cambodia: Quality Basic Education for All’ Human Development Sector Unit, East Asia and the Pacific Region, Washing DC, USA

Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (2013) ‘The Press Release of the Result of National Examinations of Students in Grade 12’ Phnom Penh, Cambodia,

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