Education and Skills Training in Cambodia

Feature | 30 November 2011

Battambang, Cambodia - Born to a very poor family in northern Cambodia, Long Borin left home in 2003 at the age of 14. She traveled across the border into Thailand to work in construction. Moving from one job site to another with other migrant workers, she earned a miniscule wage - the equivalent of about $3 per day - with no hope of improving her situation.

In 2008, Long received a fateful telephone call from her family in Cambodia. Her mother told her that, during a village meeting, local officials said there were scholarships available for women in vocational training. Seeing her chance, Long returned to her home country and enrolled in a cosmetics and hairstyling program.

After graduating from the program, she was offered a job teaching other students at her own school, as well as at another school. Today, at the age of 29, she earns the equivalent of about $230 a month - more than four times the average wage in that part of Cambodia - and is saving money to start her own hairstyling and cosmetics business.

"Without this training, I would still be a construction laborer," she says. "There was no training or learning new skills for me there. It was only labor. Now, I am closer to my family and I am earning enough to save for my future."

Long benefited from the Second Education Sector Development Program (ESDP II), which was supported by a $45 million loan from ADB and administered by Cambodia's Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports. The loan is designed to improve equity and access to general education and deliver nonformal skills training in poor communities. It also aims to improve the efficiency and decentralization efforts of Cambodia's education system.

The project developed and tested the Voucher Skills Training Program, the nonformal skills training component that Long benefited from, in poor communities in seven provinces.

Surmounting the education barrier

"ESDP II was designed to assist some of the most educationally disadvantaged people in Cambodia, with a particular focus on girls and women," says Karin Schelzig, a senior social-sector specialist in ADB's Cambodia Resident Mission. "Cambodian girls and women face many barriers to obtaining an education and skills training. A grade 9 certificate is required to enter formal skills training programs, for example, but fewer than half of all Cambodian women aged 25 and over have completed lower secondary schooling. The Voucher Skills Training Program provided nonformal skills training to tens of thousands of school dropouts."

Part of the project's gender-inclusive design was to target information, education, and scholarships to women and girls in some of Cambodia's poorest communities.Specialists with expertise in gender issues in Cambodia were involved in many levels of the preparation and implementation of the project. The project specifically sought to increase the number of girls in secondary schools, the number of women receiving skills training, the number and expertise of women teachers, and the representation of women role models in Cambodian textbooks and learning materials.

Hands-on lessons

The impact of this project was felt directly by Ley Leup, a 58-year-old farmer living near the northern Cambodian city of Battambang. A rice farmer all her life, she attended a community-training program supported by the ADB project that taught her about growing vegetables.

The training taught her how to select good quality vegetable seed and how to prevent crop diseases. She also learned about using organic fertilizer from the waste of pigs and chickens, and from leaves around her farm. Before the training, she used more expensive chemical fertilizers that damaged her soil over the long term. The organic fertilizer not only lowered her costs but was preferred by the brokers who bought her vegetables.

When her costs went down, her profits and volume increased. The new techniques and diversification of her crop to vegetables have allowed her to invest her profits into a bicycle, a motorcycle, a generator, and an additional 2.5 hectares of farmland.

Success stories like those of Long Borin and Ley Leup have led to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training expanding the Voucher Skills Training Program to all 24 provinces of Cambodia.

"The whole community has changed ... " says Ley. "With everyone growing vegetables, not just rice, we are learning from each other and increasing our profit."