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education becomes an overarching theme of the electoral campaign

While it is a matter for rejoicing that education has become a major subject of the debates during the current electoral campaign in Cambodia, education trade unionists have particularly underlined the financial shortcomings of the national school systems, which the public authorities have to remedy.

As the legislative elections of 29 July approach in Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has put education at the centre of his campaign for re-election.

“I want every district to have a high school, every commune a junior high school and every village a primary school,” he said in a speech.

In this young country, where one third of the population is between 15 and 30 years old according to UN figures, the public authorities have understood that it is in their interest to focus on education. More specifically, 300,000 young Cambodians enter the labour market every year, often without suitable qualification.

Sam Rainsy, the head of the political opposition, nonetheless denounced the “window-dressing measures” and the emergence of private education programmes from “useless degree mills.”

Not enough books

Mainstream schools “do not have enough books, let alone modern equipment such as computers,” also criticised Rong Chhun of the Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), an Education International affiliate.

Pervasive corruption and the common practice of paid private tutorials make the Cambodian education system unequal. Furthermore, the impact of the Khmer Rouge regime, under which a quarter of the population was slaughtered in the 1970s, in particular intellectuals such as teachers, considered to be enemies of the people, is still being felt today. There is a substantial shortage of teachers, further exacerbated by the fact that young graduates are not attracted to a poorly paid profession.

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