Rampant sporadic civil wars and conflicts had all but brought education in Cambodia to a standstill, most notably so during the Pol Pot regime.
Once known as one of the most powerful empires during the Angkorean era, the Kingdom is now a developing country nestled in the Southeast Asian region.
There is no doubt in the selfless efforts taken by the Royal Government of Cambodia to rehabilitate education to be more robust and prosperous given that it is one of the most vital sectors to leverage economic growth through human resource development.
In the same vein, adult education will play a crucial role in developing human resources and driving the Kingdom’s economy across the threshold to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
At the World Education Forum held in Senegal in April 2000, approximately 1,100 participants from 164 countries adopted the Dakar Framework for Action: Meeting Our Collective Commitment.
They pledged their commitment to achieving Education For All (EFA) by 2015 and reaffirming the goals of the 1990 Jomtien Conference.
The Dakar Framework lists six main goals of education that serve as a spearhead for all participants to attain EFA.
These are – to expand early childhood care and education; to provide free and compulsory primary education for all; to promote learning and life skills for young people and adults; to increase adult literacy by 50 per cent; to achieve gender parity by 2005 and gender equality by 2015; and to improve the quality of education.
In this line, the Cambodian government has put forth their concerted efforts into realising the EFA goals by setting up six working groups – Early Childhood Care and Education; Primary Education; Life Skills of All Young People and Adults; Literacy for Youth and Adults; Eliminating Gender Disparities in Basic Education; and Improving the Quality of Education for a Better Life.
Two of the working groups tackle adult education – Life Skills of All Young People and Adults; and Literacy for Youth and Adults.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s Department of Non-Formal Education in collaboration with developing partners and other relevant stakeholders have established community learning centres (CLCs) and other learning avenues to promote adult, informal and non-formal education in Cambodia.
Moreover, various educational programmes have been rolled out in CLCs to promote adult education, addressing functional literacy, post-literacy, re-entry, accelerated learning, basic education equivalency and income generation.
However, the current situation of adult education in Cambodia remains stagnant and is wracked with loopholes. The government and relevant stakeholders should take to immediate action to shore up the sub-sector.
Pressing issues facing adult education in the Kingdom include scant community and learner participation in CLCs and similar institutions, insufficient physical infrastructures and conducive environments, a shortage of human resources, a lack of information dissemination and the unattractiveness of training programmes.
Other barriers include an inadequate understanding of the significance of CLCs, participants’ unclear career paths, limited funding, family burdens, lack of commitment and ownership, traditional culture and mindsets that give less value to learning, and low living standards.
Remarkably, the issue of constrained community and learner participation in CLCs is one of the most predominant and has a significant impact on adult education. Without their meaningful involvement and participation, efforts to support adult education will be lacklustre, leaving learning facilities on the brink of shutting down.
One of the main lingering challenges is formulating practical policies and guidelines to properly implement adult education as well as promoting human resources and research in the field.
To realise the profound vision of empowering and cultivating adult education in the Kingdom, the government and other relevant stakeholders should pay painstaking attention to the procurement and promotion of human resources and experts to provide the sub-sector with cutting-edge development trends and hearten its prospects.
To its credit, the government adopted the Law on Education in 2007 and National Policy on Lifelong Learning last year to foster adult education and improve the overall trajectory of education in the Kingdom.
What is more, NGOs such as the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan (NFUAJ), DVV International, NGO Education Partnership (NEP) in Cambodia, Mith Samlanh and other organisations are actively working to empower and develop the sub-sector.
Increasing the allocated national budget for adult education is also vital to promoting research in the field, improving physical infrastructures and ensuring conducive environments, updating teaching curriculums, as well as establishing strategies and guidelines to enhance community participation at CLCs.
The future of adult education in Cambodia can be forged by and strengthened through added public funding, practical policies and strategies that strengthen human resources, and reinforce research.
After all, knowledgeable people are the main driving force behind the evolution of adult education and they ensure equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
With a spiritual and robust commitment from the government, developing partners and communities, adult education in Cambodia will make headway on a bright path of unremitting development into a knowledge-based society with an abundance in human resource potential.
Neak Piseth is the founder of The Way of Life-Cambodia and is pursuing his Master’s Degree in Non-Formal Education from the Department of Lifelong Learning, Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.