Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Only 1 in 10 Cambodian graduates get work

I'm glad AFP did a story on the Cambodian education system. It is a complete joke, run for profit and not for education. I wish Cambodians would stop wasting their money on useless degrees. Having said that, a good friend of mine, Khim, gave me SGD2000 (about USD1333) and I am using that money to pay for Sina's education at the Human Resources University in Phnom Penh. Sina, who works with me at Bloom, is a star, an absolute gem and that is why when I found out he had enrolled in university to study English literature, I said I would help find funding for him.

I have a Cambodian friend who is studying at Build Bright University, a well-known--and expensive--one in Phnom Penh. She told me they cheat during exams, copying answers from books and from each other and the invigilators do not care. I questioned Sina about this and he said his uni does not allow cheating, which is a relief. I also know that USD40 gets you a pass in secondary school. Families think they are helping their son/daughter by paying for a pass but they are only harming them. Imagine if the kid pays to get to the next level and is ill-equipped for that--he/she will be stuck in a vicious circle of failing.

Expat friends who teach English at private schools tell me how disinterested students are and how demoralised they feel because as teachers, they are not making a difference, but go through the motions of pretending to impart knowledge. Teachers are also under pressure to keep grades up because parents want to see progress in their children's reports and school owners want to see enrollment rise, not fall.

Then there is the problem when students do get funding. Sina, for instance, fell asleep during one of his papers recently, to my dismay. When I asked him why, he said it was because he had to work during the day and stayed up all night studying, so he was just exhausted. How can I scold him for that? I know it is incredibly hard for young Cambodians like him who have to work and study at the same time. The problem is that there is a fee for each examination, so failing an exam means more expense, as you would have to sit for it again.

A good friend of mine (Australian) who raises money annually for boys who live and study at pagodas in Siem Reap told me how disappointed she was this year to find out many of the students take the money and do not study hard or even drop out. One boy decided to drop out to busk at the park here in Siem Reap! He gets about USD10 a day playing a traditional Khmer musical instrument for tourists. My friend had to return the money to some sponsors as she could not, in good conscience, pass on money that would not be used for what it was intended for.

Cambodian education is such a sham that some graduates earn only USD80 in their first jobs. Seriously, as an employer, I would never hire a Cambodian based on their paper qualifications. The only good thing I can think of about a Cambodian university education is that it may improve the student's grasp of English. In the case of Sina, I do think it is working. As an employer, I look for attitude--a willingness to learn and to work hard. Honesty also rates highly, as does initiative and problem solving skills.

Anyway, here is AFP's article:

Cambodia's higher education dreams confront reality
Oct 5, 2008
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — She has two years to go until graduation, but already Cambodian student Chhum Savorn is filled with a sense of dread.
The 21-year-old decided to major in finance, hoping she would acquire skills to help develop her country, which is one of the poorest in the world.
Instead, she thinks her education is nearly worthless -- classes are mostly packed with indifferent, cheating students and led by under-qualified professors.
"The low quality of my studies means that I can't help the country, and I'll even have a hard time getting a job that pays enough to help my family," she says.
A growing number of eager young Cambodians are finding themselves duped into a higher education system that suffers from weak management and teaching because it is geared more toward profit than learning.
As a result only one in ten recent graduates are finding work, a worrying figure in a country trying to rebuild after decades of civil war.
Cambodia's schools were obliterated under Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s when the regime killed nearly two million people -- including most of the country's intellectuals -- as it emptied cities in its bid to forge a Communist utopia.
But as the country rebuilds and the economy grows, it is inundated with institutions peddling low-quality education.
In 2000, there were ten post-secondary institutions in Cambodia. Now there are 70 private and state-run universities.
Most programs offered by those institutions are dismal, says Mak Ngoy, deputy director general of higher education at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
"We are not yet satisfied with the current quality of our education," Mak Ngoy says.
"I think increasing the number of higher education institutions is a positive sign, but we are struggling with the hard task of strengthening quality," he adds.
Qualified university professors complain that many students rarely do their work and cheating is rampant.
A number of students are content to pay for a degree and do not realise the benefit of a good education, says Lav Chhiv Eav, rector of Royal University of Phnom Penh, the oldest and largest state-owned college.
"Some students are scared of studying hard and think what they need is any degree, not quality. The final result will be joblessness," he says.
Most of Cambodia's universities are small-scale institutions with limited of capital, poor facilities and little discipline.
So far, the education ministry has ordered the closing of four institutions that called themselves universities, but gave little education to students.
Five years ago there was an attempt to fix Cambodia's higher education institutions, with the formation of a national university accreditation committee.
The committee was formed to force institutions to adhere to strict education requirements, but the World Bank pulled its funding for the scheme when it became clear the body would not be independent from government control.
With little official oversight, the quality of many Cambodian universities has worsened, while the number of Cambodians seeking a diploma has shot up.
More than 135,000 Cambodians are currently enrolled in some form of higher education, says the education ministry, compared to just 25,000 eight years ago.
But only one in 10 recent university graduates have found work, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia, as the country remains mired in poverty despite the double-digit economic growth.
Ma Sopheap, officer at the Asian Development Bank, says Cambodia will have trouble luring foreign investment if it does not start producing more qualified graduates.
"If the low quality of higher education continues, it will affect Cambodia's economic development," he says. "Then there is no way to reduce poverty."

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