The price of education


Literacy is a fundamental human right as well as a foundation for life-long learning and continued human capital development for inclusive and sustainable development Lemaistre 2013).

During the Pol Pot Regime of 1975-1979 the aim was to become an agrarian society where agriculture was to become the main focus and economical source. Consequently, in line with this ideal, education diminished and today, 40 years on, Cambodia is striving to find its place within a global society.

The accepted perception of the Khmer Rogue is that, “anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed (BBC News 2015).” Whilst in many cases this is the truth, it has been argued that rather the, “Khmer Rouge wanted an education system that was strong on unquestioning literacy: the blind acceptance of propaganda without critical doubt (Chigas & Mosyakov as cited in Kudos D 2014).” To this extent the Khmer people were stripped of any form of critical thinking and therefore any right or knowledge in questioning their enforced circumstances. In the same instance however, during the regime, schools were forced to close and around 90% of teachers were killed (Education in Cambodia 2015).

The educational recovery since the fall of the Khmer Rouge has been a slow one, especially considering that after the Khmer Rouge it is estimated that the illiteracy rate rose to 40% and the education system had to be rebuilt from scratch (Savong’s School Cambodia).

Whilst today most Khmer children have free access to nine years of education, according to a Cambodia Independent Teacher Association study from 2010-2011, the average wage of primary – secondary and upper secondary teachers was only between USD50-100 per month averaging 16hrs of teaching per week.

The 2014 Corruptions Index revealed that Cambodia ranks 156/175 amongst the global corruption findings. The education system is no exception to using bribery where teachers frequently earn extra income through selling exam answers, passing students for a fee and offering private tuition.

As part of a government initiative to reduce corruption in the education system, last year measures were taken to ensure that cheating in the year 12 exam was virtually impossible. As a result statistics revealed that in comparison to an 87% pass rate in 2013, only 26% of students passed in 2014 (The Guardian 2014).

Students being patted down prior to 2014 yr 12 exam
Students being patted down prior to 2014 yr 12 exam

So whilst Cambodia has considerably increased education and access since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, are the published figures true indicators of literacy or a they largely based on examination pass rates determined by monetary offerings? Furthermore, has the education aims truly changed from the premise of Pol Pot or are Cambodian students still void of critical thinking skills and forced propaganda through bribery as a form of education?


BBC News 2015, Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge, BBC News, [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2015]

 Education facts and figures: Cambodia 2015, Savong’s School Cambodia [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2015]

Kudos D 2014, Education under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot’s new order in the classroom, Savong School Cambodia [Online] Available at: [Accessed 20th July 2015]

Lemaistre A 2013, Literacy Playing a Key Role, Phnom Penh Post [Online] Available at: [Accessed 20th July 2015]

Photo source: Pha L 2014, Cheating down, not out at grade 12 exams, The Phnom Penh Post, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 20th July 2015]

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