Poll Shows Fighting Corruption Drives Support for Education Reform in Cambodia
October 15, 2014
Earlier this week, Cambodia’s Ministry of Education Youth and Sports (MoEYS) held a second high school exam to provide a second chance for the over 70 percent of 93,000 high school students who failed to pass the first annual national high school exam, held in early August. The passing rate in the first exam – down to a staggering 25.7 percent from last year’s passing rate of nearly 87 percent – is one of the first tangible results of the Ministry’s recent education reform efforts. While the standard of the second exam has been questioned, MoEYS claimed that this week’s exam remained as strict as the first.
Following the July 2013 election in which the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) gained a surprisingly narrow victory over the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the newly formed government led by the CPP has promised a raft of new reforms, including the decision to increase monitoring of the national high school examination. The introduction of the Ministry’s reform efforts drew lively media debate over whether or not the stricter monitoring would actually lead to improvements in the quality of education in Cambodia overall.
To gauge public opinion on the Ministry’s decision, The Asia Foundation conducted a snap poll from September 13-19 that featured face-to-face interviews with 500 respondents from five urban and rural provinces: Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Koh Kong, and Siem Reap. Of the respondents, 400 were 15- to 65-years old and randomly selected from the general population, and 100 were high school students from grades 10, 11, and 12. The data collection teams used Google’s Open Data Kit, a smart phone technology that aggregates data on a cloud-based server. ODK allows smart phone users to download a questionnaire from a cloud-based server. Data stored on the phone is then transferred to the server once connected to the internet.
The survey finds overwhelming support for the Ministry’s decision: 57 percent of respondents agreed with the decision to tighten monitoring, and an additional 39 percent of respondents totally agreed with the decision, for a total of 96 percent. Even among the 100 high school students in the sample, support for the reform was high (55% agreed) though not surprisingly, fewer students expressed total agreement for the reform (28%) compared to the general population (41%).
Respondents cited fighting corruption and the desire to receive a quality education as the leading factors for their strong support for MoEYS’ reform. Ninety-nine percent of respondents agreed or totally agreed that improving the quality of education is a priority for Cambodia. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said that bribing and cheating on the exam discouraged students from studying hard. In fact, 77 percent of respondents supported the statement: “Fighting corruption is more important than fighting poverty.” Similarly, 78 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Fighting corruption is more important than having enough food.”
While support for the national exam monitoring was high, the survey results suggest that people think that the increased monitoring is insufficient and that much deeper reform is needed. To improve the quality of education in Cambodia, respondents suggested a number of other priorities such as increasing teachers’ salaries, improving teachers’ qualifications, and reforming education starting from primary school (rather than at the very end of high school). In fact, increasing teachers’ salaries ranked as a top priority for educational reforms, with 68 percent of respondents totally agreeing with raising salaries. Sixty-four percent of respondents “totally agreed” that improvements in education should start from primary school.
Improving the quality of education in Cambodia is understandably a long-term effort. However, given the short timespan of the election cycle, reforms such as monitoring of the national exam should serve as a model for the government. The poll results suggest that MoEYS’ reform demonstrated quick wins to the public and now serves to provide intra-institutional pressure for deeper, wider reforms.
Silas Everett is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Cambodia and Menghun Kaing is a program officer there. Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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