Strategic Analysis





2.1              Poverty Profiles


Various assessments point to extensive levels of poverty in Cambodia.  The poverty headcount index in 1999 was an estimated 36% (Poverty Profiles, 1999).  Although comparisons between different poverty measures are difficult, the incidence of poverty appears largely unchanged from 1997.  Poverty rates are highest in rural areas where roughly 90.5% of the poor live.  The remainder of the poor is located in other urban areas (7.2%) and the capital Phnom Penh (2.3%).  The recent Cambodia Socioeconomic Survey (CSES 1999) largely confirmed these patterns.  Average annual income in rural areas was less than one-third of Phnom Penh residents (rural US$ 197 per annum, Phnom Penh US$ 691 per annum).


Cambodia compares unfavourably with other Asian countries on broader human poverty indices.  For example, using the UNDP Cambodia human poverty index (HPI), a score of 42.5% is reported.  In comparison, the average score for Southeast Asia and Pacific developing countries is 25%.  Poor performances on primary school completion, health and sanitation service access and child nutrition are major contributing factors to the low HPI in Cambodia.  Clearly improved access to basic education services in poor rural areas is a top priority in reducing human poverty rates. 


There are also large urban/rural disparities in human poverty.  For example, the HPI in urban areas (16% of the population) is 34.2%.  In contrast, the figures in rural areas are 44.9% for 84% of the population.  Other indicators reinforce these wide disparities.  Per capita consumption in urban areas is twice that of rural people.  Urban residents have an additional five years life expectancy and higher levels of education attainment.  Cost and access barriers are a significant factor when Phnom Penh residents spend between 12 times as much on education as the rural population. 



Source : Cambodia Socioeconomic Survey (1999)


These patterns are confirmed by a provincial analysis of human development indicators.  For example, the HDI in Phnom Penh is 0.936 compared to a national average HDI of 0.472.  HDI ranges from 0.22 (Mondulkiri) to 0.659 (Kompong Som).  Broadly the smaller, less populated and poorer provinces have lower HDI.  Amongst the more populated provinces, the lowest HDI occurs in Siem Reap (ranked 19 from 20), Kompong Thom (ranked 18), Preah Vihear (ranked 12) and Takeo (ranked 10).


A recent survey (MoEYS 1999) shows some correlation between vulnerability (especially food security) and education participation and attainment.  For example, in around 550 vulnerable communes, the literacy rate for 10 – 14 year olds was around 63% compared to a national average of 68%.  The proportion of people never attending school from these vulnerable communes was 50% compared to a national average of 45%.  These figures suggest that targeted school feeding programs, especially for upper primary and lower secondary grades, could have positive benefits for enhanced school enrolment and retention of pupils from poor families (see Map 1).


Three key issues emerge.  A first priority is to broaden the availability of education services, especially lower secondary provision.  A second priority is to alleviate cost barriers to access to primary and secondary education.  A third priority is to examine equitable resource allocation policies, possibly including some affirmative poverty indexing in Government spending on basic education services.


2.2              Demographic and Geographical Perspectives


Population growth rates are declining slowly from 2.7% p.a. in 1990 to an estimated 2.5% p.a. in 1998, due to continued high child mortality, low life expectancy and high fertility rates.  Fertility rates rose in the early nineties as Cambodian family life settled down after civil strife, but are gradually declining.  At current rates, the population will rise from a current 11.4 million to around 14 million by 2005.  Population growth will be highest in rural areas (urban TFR 4.2, rural TFR 5.3), contributing to stubbornly high poverty incidence.


This demographic outlook, with a 20% population rise over ten years, will fuel demand for education services and jobs.  The school age population is around 45% of the population and is likely to grow by around 1 – 1.5 million in ten years, with greatest demand in rural areas.   Increased pressures on existing primary education services and demand for expanded secondary education provision are becoming evident.  Specifically targeted education programs to improve the social and economic circumstances of women are pressing, given that families represent around 52% of the population and have higher life expectancy rates.  Achieving an effective balance between accommodating growing education service demand and improved quality and effectiveness will be the critical challenge over the next decade.


There are few serious geographical barriers to efficient access and service delivery.  Population density is around 64 people per km2 (Lao PDR 19, Vietnam 210).  Often severe annual flooding and variable road infrastructure represent the major service delivery constraints.  This was evident during the severe flooding of 2000.  Most of the 5000 villages have a primary school, though almost half do not offer full primary schooling Grades 1 - 6.  There are wide disparities between urban and rural areas in access and quality of basic education services.  A much smaller proportion of rural villages have a lower secondary or upper secondary school in the village.  These access barriers contribute to high repetition rates in the primary grades and less progression to secondary schools.


Better coverage primary education in recent years has contributed to improved use of plant.  Primary school sizes have risen from 350 to around 400 in recent years.  Secondary school sizes are around 700.  For primary and secondary levels, pupil-teacher ratios are around 45 and 16 respectively (compared to Lao PDR 28 and 15).  A rationalisation and efficiency gain for secondary education staffing deployment policy is a pressing issue.  The recruitment and retention of trained teachers for schools in remote areas remains a critical problem.  A priority will be to formulate and implement new and more efficient staff deployment guidelines, including targeted incentives for teaching staff in remote areas and to redeploy non-teaching staff back to the classroom.


2.3              Labour Market Outlook


Agriculture remains the predominant sector, employing more than four-fifths of the work force.  In rural areas, 89% of the work force is subsistence farmers or unpaid family workers.  In urban areas, around two-thirds of the work force, work in the service or small manufacturing sectors, as foreign inward investment (FDI) grew in the early and mid-nineties.  In contrast, only around 11% of rural workers are in the service sector, mainly as Government employees.


Demographic pressures reinforce the urgent need for employment generation.  It is projected that the labour force will grow by around 200,000 per annum by 2010.  Already the growth in the size of the agricultural labour force has resulted in overall decline in agricultural productivity in recent years.  The situation is exacerbated by growing uncertainty in the labour market outlook.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) has declined in recent years.  Although the tourism sector is showing promising growth, the prospects for the garment industry (a recent engine of job creation in urban areas) is somewhat fragile.


The labour market outlook is now less certain.  FDI shrank significantly in 1997/98 due to the political unrest and the tourism sector was badly hit.  Nevertheless, the active garment sector expanded exports and overall the trade balance improved due to a fall in import demand.  Paradoxically, the recent 30% decline in the currency may restore inward investment levels once political stability can be assured.


  Source : Socio-economic Survey of Cambodia, (1999)


This uncertain labour market outlook means that mechanisms need to be put in place that increase the responsiveness of the education and training system.  Already there are strong signs of demand for specific training (e.g. management, computing, accounting, foreign languages) in urban areas.  These private sector and NGO run programs constitute more than 90% of current technical education and skills training provision.  Selective use of user fees and public subsidies for private training provision, linked to improved training/market research and information, is a key measure for reinforcing the market signal (see Map 3).


In the rural areas, better quality primary education, non formal education and literacy programmes are pivotal to better farming productivity.  In urban areas, specific skills training needs to be short duration, highly focused programmes tailored to changing work force needs.  Recent efforts to reposition vocational training institutions, with greater autonomy and employer participation, are proving successful in stimulating the demand-side of skills training.  This will also allow for greater responsiveness to the needs of the informal and self-employment sectors.


The role of Government should be to selectively provide programs where public sector involvement is clearly justifiable (e.g. very specialised technology and technician programs).  A second role of Government should be to strengthen regulatory and quality assurance for this growing public/private partnership.  A third role for Government could be to stimulate and build capacity of both public and private training providers.  The demand-driven National Training Fund, linked to selective micro-credit is a positive example of well-planned Government intervention. 


2.4              Addressing the Education/Poverty Trap


The overall financing of the education system is still heavily reliant on households’ private contributions to education costs.  Socioeconomic surveys report that on average, unofficial monthly school fees at primary level are riels 3500 per pupil, riels 8000 at lower secondary and riels 10,200 at upper secondary level.  At post-secondary level, the private contributions are significantly higher, especially in urban areas.


Average Out-of-Pocket Expenditures on School Fees per Student, 1997

 (Riels per Year)




Phnom Penh

Other Urban


Public Schools :










Lower Secondary





Upper Secondary






Private Schools :














Lower Secondary





Upper Secondary






All Schools :














Lower Secondary





Upper Secondary






Source : Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey (CSES) 1997


Recent surveys also highlight that households (especially the urban better-off) are willing to pay substantially for the guarantee of high quality education.  The national household survey (1997) indicated that parents are willing to pay 10 times as much for quality private schooling, particularly at secondary level.  It appears that parents judge that the greater guarantee of access to competitive post-secondary education (especially the elite university faculties) represents a worthwhile investment. 


However, this largely unregulated private financing of education has resulted in a potential education/poverty trap.  For example, the representation of the poor is much greater in the primary student population than in the secondary or tertiary student population.  This is particularly true of Cambodia, where 20% of primary students but only 2% of upper secondary students are drawn from the poorest 20% of the population.  In contrast, 61% of the upper secondary students in the country come from the richest 20% of the population.  The representation of the poor in tertiary education is zero, while the richest 20% of the population accounts for 57% of tertiary education. 


Distribution of Enrolled Students by Quintile and by Schooling Level, 1997

(Percent of Total Population in Each Quintile)



Per Capita Expenditure Quintile
















Lower Secondary







Upper Secondary







Post Secondary







Source : MoEYS, MoEF and Staff Estimates (PER 1998)


This analysis raises a number of key financial planning and management issues.  Firstly, there is a strong argument for devoting a large share of public resources for primary education where the poorest are most represented.  Secondly, to assure reduced cost barriers to secondary education, the level of formal and informal payments to schools and teachers needs to be contained to affordable levels and better regulated.  In some instances, there may be a case for selective fee waivers for primary and secondary education. 


Another contributing factor in this education/poverty trap is the need for school age children, often girls, to contribute to household chores and household income generation.  For example, in a recent CSES 1999 survey, it was estimated that of the 1.6 million school age children not attending full time, around 25% of these children stated household income/work responsibilities as the primary factor.  In contrast, only 8% of the sample sighted lack of suitable, accessible education provision as the primary barrier. 


2.5              Broader Social Development Perspectives


Education planning and programming also needs to take account of other social dimensions, especially child health and nutrition and the potential impact of HIV AIDS.  For example, child malnutrition has risen from 38% to 40% in the past decade.  Almost one-fifth of children suffer from severe malnutrition.  In addition, roughly 70% of the population has no access to safe water and roughly 85% have inadequate sanitation. 


International evidence indicates that these health factors can have significant impact on student performance at school.  Unsafe water correlates strongly with the incidence of diarrhoea, which impacts adversely on student attendance.  Similarly, family nutrition education programs and the availability of micronutrient supplements as part of integrated health/education planning can bring positive results.  There is a strong case for increasingly using the primary school network as part of this proposed integrated health planning.  The national health clinic network is only one-third of the size of the primary school network.  Health clinic staffing levels are around 17 per 100,000 people compared to over 80 per 100,000 people for primary schools.  The current pilot primary school feeding program is a good example of such integrated approaches.


Future education planning may need to take increasing account of the prevalence of HIV AIDS in Cambodia.  In 1998, it was estimated that 180,000 (or 3.7% of the sexually active population) were HIV positive.  There are currently an estimated 6000 AIDS sufferers in Cambodia.  While there is no reliable data on Cambodian teachers, a recent study indicated that around 25% of young men in Cambodia engaged in high-risk sexual behaviour (Cambodia Women's Development Association, 1995).  International experience suggests relatively better-off, male professionals (including teachers) are potentially a high-risk group. 


HIV prevalence has potentially great significance for long-term teaching service planning.  HIV/AIDS could contribute to growing attrition rates and absenteeism in the teaching service.  Growing AIDS prevalence could add significantly to teaching service and teacher training costs if it becomes a major problem.  Equally, in some countries, teacher-training institutions are often the epicenter of high-risk sexual behaviour.  Given the significant public and private investment in secondary and post secondary education, a first measure could be a targeted HIV/AIDS awareness program for the education sector.  A second measure could be further research into potential HIV/AIDS impact on education planning building on the initial HIV/AIDS education situation analysis initiated by MoEYS (September 2000).



Gender Dimensions

There are significant inequities in the representation of females in the education system.  There is a significant drop in the proportion of enrolled girls in the later grades of the primary school system.  As shown in the table above, the share of girls falls from 47% in Grade 1 to 32% in Grade 6.  Girls represent about one-third of total enrolment in secondary schools.  Females are also significantly under-represented in technical and higher education. 


These outcomes are a combination of a number of social, cultural and economic factors.  Firstly, although girls enroll at roughly the same age as boys, earlier dropout occurs with the onset of puberty and as family responsibilities begin to predominate.  Secondly, it is reported that parents are often less willing to invest in educating females, which is a critical factor when parental contributions are a large share of education spending.  A number of policy/strategy interventions for assuring equitable access to schooling could be considered. 


One strategy is an awareness campaign and possible regulations to secure girls enroll at the official entry age.  A second strategy could be a targeted incentive program for girls from poor families linked to school performance and attendance measures.  An associated strategy could be linking the proposed incentive scheme with a targeted school-feeding program.  Such approaches are currently being piloted in selected provinces with external assistance (e.g. Asia Foundation in Kompong Cham, World Bank/World Food Program support in Takeo).


Similar gender disparities are evident in the education service.  Male teachers represent 63% and 73% of the primary and secondary teaching force.  In the managerial and administrative cadres, men represent 73% of total.  In the provincial and district education offices, males represent around 80% of total staffing.  In many instances, the females are concentrated in lower level secretarial and support staff duties.  The main factor is the low proportion of women with the required academic and professional qualifications for high level and teaching positions.  The long-term strategy should be to gradually assure equitable access to secondary and post secondary education, possibly linked to short-term affirmative action in promoting qualified female education personnel.