Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to start providing education to migrant children, whether they are in Cambodia or Thailand, so that they do not miss out on their study.

“I was recently speaking to some construction workers who had come to work in Phnom Penh and had brought their wives and children with them. How do we solve the problem of making sure that their children are learning? We have to find a way,” he said on November 11, while addressing a university graduation ceremony.

“I believe we can ensure such children receive an education. For example, if there are schools close to construction sites, then the workers’ children should be enrolled there. If migrants come to work in Phnom Penh but leave their children with relatives, we must instruct the local authorities to take care of the children and make sure they are attending school,” he added.

He suggested that another solution might be to establish mobile schools, or run special classes where large numbers of migrant children gather.

As for migration abroad, especially Thailand, he urged the education ministry to work with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to provide opportunities for children to study.

“For those who go to Thailand, it doesn’t matter too much whether their children are learning in Khmer or in Thai – the main thing is that they are accessing education. We need to plan carefully, so that no child slips through the cracks and misses out on education. This is something we must pay close attention to,” he said.

Yi Kimthan, deputy country director for Plan International Cambodia (PIC), welcomed the premier’s initiative, saying that the issue of children whose parents removed them from school when they migrated for work was a major concern for NGOs working in education.

“Many of the children who follow their parents lose their educational opportunities. In the past, many civil society organisations have considered this problem,” he said.

Although his organisation’s work does not focus on migrant children, similar circumstances occurred in the country’s northeast, where many parents moved far from their homes to engage in different work during the rainy season. PIC has organised a mobile community kindergarten, where 10 or more children could study under the instructions of teachers from the area.

Kimthan said PIC and Plan International Thailand have worked together to establish community schools where education is available in both Thai and Khmer languages.

“The problem is that the children often learn in Thai. When they return to Cambodia, will the education ministry recognise their education?” he cautioned.

San Chey, executive director of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said Hun Sen’s push is consistent with some projects by civil society organisations.

“Authorities should continue some of the excellent projects in the field of education that have been successfully implemented,” he said.

He suggested that the provision of learning opportunities for migrant children should focus on their specific needs in a way that goes beyond what general students require.

There are no official figures available on what percentage of Cambodian children miss out on schooling due to their parents’ migration, but according to education minister Hang Chuon Naron, dropout rates in primary schools are falling and there have been increases in regular enrolment.

Ros Soveacha, spokesman for the education ministry, said the ministry will continue to implement policies which develop the youth of the Kingdom.