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Literacy Rates

Between Cambodian households, as between countries, there is a strong correlation between increasing levels of education or literacy and decreasing levels of poverty (World Bank, 2006). It is possible that a better education leads to higher incomes, but it may also be simply that increasing wealth enables households to educate their children in a way that is not possible for poorer households.

According to CSES 2004 data, the total literacy rate was 67.1 percent, with male literacy accounting for 74.4 percent and female literacy accounting for 60.3 percent (Table 6.4).

The general literacy rate is highest in Phnom Penh and much lower in rural areas. The literacy rate is higher for males than females in both urban and rural areas.

Table 6.4 Percentage of Literacy Rate Among  Population 7 years and above


Source: CSES 2004

Adult Literacy Rate

Adult literacy rate is defined as the percentage of literate persons aged 15 and above to the corresponding population. Adult literacy rates for males are considerably higher than those for females both in urban and rural areas in 1998 and 2004, although the gap is slightly lower in 2004 (Table 6.5). The most notable feature has been the relative lack of progress in increasing adult literacy during the period 2001 -2006. During these five years adult literacy rates have remained constant with a slight increase in male literacy and little increase in female adult literacy.

According to the 2005 UNDP update on Cambodia’s MDG progress, the literacy rate for 15-24 year olds has remained largely unchanged in recent years. In 2005 the rate was 83 percent compared with 82 percent in 1999, whereas the target was to increase it to 90 percent in 2005. This is corroborated by data from CIPS and the World Bank. The adult male literacy rate in 1998 was 80 percent and this has increased by just 5 percentage points to 8 percent in 2006. Similarly, the adult female literacy rate has increased by 7  percentage points over a span of 8 years, from 57 percent in 1998 to 64 percent in 2006.

Table 6.5 Literacy Rates in Cambodia 1998 and 2004


Source: CIPS, 2004

Figure 6.4 Adult Literate rate (%) in Cambodia 2004


Source: CSES 2004

Table 6.6 Percentage of Adult Literacy Rate


Source: CSES 2004

The adult literacy rate was highest in Phnom Penh, at 90.7 percent; when disaggregated by gender, the adult literacy rate among men was 96.1 percent, while it was 85.7 percent among women (Table 6.6).

Distance to School

At the time of the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, all formal education in the country had practically ceased to function. There were virtually no trained teachers left, the majority of the schools had been destroyed, and there was a total lack of books and educational materials (Chan Sophal et al. 1999: 114). By the mid-1990s there were 6,100 schools in the country, with some 62,000 teachers and 2.3 million pupils (Chan Sophal et al. 1999). Across the country, increased access to schools, at all levels, has been notable between 1997 and 2004. Distances to primary school and secondary schools have fallen precipitously, by bringing schools closer to the populations. In rural areas, the average distance to the nearest primary school fell from 5.6 km in 1997 to 1 km in 2004; the average distances to lower and upper secondary school fell 10-fold from 49 km to 4 km, and from 118 km to 10 km, respectively (WB, 2007).  It should also be noted that in a 2000 UNESCO survey, less than 3 percent of the respondents cited distance to school as a major reason for dropping out.

Furthermore, in 2004, there was little disparity in distances to primary school between the richest and poorest quintile groups in many regions of the country, though there is an appreciable difference in average distances to schools in the rural and urban areas. For example, the average distance to the nearest primary school within rural areas in the Plateau/Mountain zone was 2.5 km for the poorest quintile, while it was 2.0 km for the richest quintile. In urban areas within the coastal region, the distance was 0.52 km for the poorest quintile while it was 0.50 km for the richest quintile (WB, 2007). Thus, physical access to primary schools does not appear to be a significant problem for the vast majority of Cambodians.

Table 6.7 Average distances to primary schools, 2004


Sources: CSES 1997; CSES 2004 (15- month sample)

Primary School Pupil – Teacher Ratio

The primary pupil-teacher ratio reflects the average numbers of pupils per teacher. Primary pupil-teacher ratio is the number of pupils enrolled in primary school divided by the number of primary school teachers (regardless of their teaching assignment).  Though quality of teaching does not seem to be a pertinent inhibiter to primary education (see drop-out rates), Cambodia’s pupil to teacher ratio at the primary level is the lowest in the region. As the below graph depicts, Low Income countries have an inadequate pupil-teacher ration – an average of 41 students to a teacher at the primary level. Cambodia’s pupil-teacher ratio is markedly worse – 53 students to a teacher.  Thus, while there is an increase in schools, followed by a corresponding increase in enrollment, there are clearly not enough teachers at the country’s primary level.

Figure 6.5 Primary Pupil- Teacher Ratio 2006


Source: WB HDI 2007

Educational Attainment 

According to CIPS 2004 data, more than half the population (54%) of Cambodia’s population above the age of 25 have not completed primary school. When disaggregated by gender the disparity between men and women is stark: 67 percent of women have not completed primary school as compared to 46 percent of men. This disparity is not unique: the educational attainment among women is lower than among men in all categories.

The low proportion of persons completing primary school remains a problem (Table 6.8). There are large differences in educational attainment between stratums. Educational attainment is much higher in Phnom Penh than in the rural areas.

Table 6.8 Percentage of Persons (25+) by Educational Attainment


Source: CIPS 2004

Table 6.9 Percentage of Persons (25+) by Educational Attainment and Stratum


Source: CIPS 2004

The observation in the 1998 census data that more than half (57 percent) of the literate population aged 25  have not completed even the primary level of education is confirmed by CIPS 2004 data, though with a slightly lower percentage (54 percent). Yet another confirmation by the survey is that 82 percent of this population has not gone beyond primary level of education (either dropping out before completing primary level or stopping after the completion of primary level) and that the proportion of females (88 percent) is more than that of males (78 percent). The proportion of women who have not completed the primary level of education (63.6 percent) is much higher than that of males (45.9 percent). From the primary completed level and above the proportion for women is less than that for men. Though the same situation existed in 1998, the gap between the proportion of males and females has marginally declined in favor of females. For example, the proportions of primary completed among males and females in 1998 were 28.7 and 19.7, respectively, while in 2004 these proportions were 27.3 and 19.5, respectively (CIPS, 2004).



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