Children abandoning education

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only disrupted the education system in Cambodia but has led many children, especially in the low and middle-income groups, to abandon their education due to family economic struggles.

The ‘catastrophic’ impact on families where the breadwinner or both the parents have lost their jobs had caused children to take on their family burden of earning extra income.

Furthermore, some children have lost interest in studying as they do not like learning online, or they have no access to a computer or internet, or parents not being able to pay their fees anymore to continue learning.

Ministry of Education spokesman Ros Soveacha said yesterday: “Particularly within the COVID-19 context, Cambodia may face a considerable drop-out rate in lower and upper secondary education.”

“The ministry’s existing efforts on prioritising support for dropouts shall continue,” he added.

Khmer Times managed to get some reactions from parents and children and one of them is Sok Chela, a 12-year-old boy, who quit school and works in a market in Phnom Penh selling groceries to earn money for his family.

“My family is from Prey Veng province. We came to Phnom Penh to open a small grocery stall. Before COVID-19, I used to go to Sen Sok Primary School, which is one kilometre away from my house,” he said.

“Due to the pandemic, my school was closed. I come from a very poor family and we cannot afford to have a computer or any other gadgets for online studies, so I am helping my mother to sell fruits, fish, and vegetables sometimes on the street or in the local market so that we can have food on our table,” he added.

12-year-old Sok Chela selling eggs at a market in Phnom Penh to help support his family. KT/Chor Sokunthea

He said he is feeling sad that he cannot continue his studies.

Khay Leakhena, 42, is a single mother trying to survive amid COVID-19 with her three daughters aged, 13, 15 and 17 said she was working as a chef in a small guesthouse-cum-restaurant.

As Siem Reap is a tourist destination, she added, the guesthouse was always full and that had helped her earn well but with the COVID-19 outbreak, business is down and so is her earning.

Before the outbreak, she added, her children went to a Korean NGO-run school but now they have stopped studying and they are working in a local market selling souvenirs and groceries on the roadside.

“My daughters want to go to school and are very eager to learn but now they need to support me to earn money,” Leakhena said.

Meas Kunthea, a mother of two aged seven and nine respectively, lived in the United States with her American husband until five years ago when they decided to move to Siem Reap province. Her husband had his own tourism business and both of her children were studying at the International School of Phnom Penh before the pandemic crisis.

“The fees for one child per year was more than $10,000. We could afford to pay the fees for both our children before COVID-19. However, now as there is no tourism my husband could not sustain his business and we are finding it very difficult to afford the expensive school. For a few months my children were studying online, however as there is no income we could not continue with the same school,” Kunthea said.

She tried to admit her children to a government school once the schools had re-opened in October, however, they do not know how to speak Khmer. After the “November 28 community incident” the schools closed again and her children are now left with no education opportunity.

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