The Ministry of Education has allocated its current budget expenditure for 2019 with 80 percent going toward teachers’ salaries and others employed in the education sector, according to Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron
During an exclusive interview with Khmer Times on Monday, Mr Chuon Naron said investing in the Kingdom’s education sector is vital to ensuring its continued development.
“Cambodia urgently needs to invest in the education sector in order to improve human resources and boost the Kingdom’s economy as we aim to become a upper middle-income country by 2030,” Mr Chuon Naron said.
The National Assembly in November approved a budget of $915 million for the education sector in 2019, an increase from $848 million in 2018.
The budget allocation for next year will inject cash into teachers’ wages, school building and reforming seven major educational programmes. The minimum salary of each teacher will jump from about $285 per month to $292 in January, and again to $300 by April.
According to a budget allocation document obtained by Khmer Times, the remaining 20 percent of the budget will go to building new schools and operation costs incurred by schools.
Mr Chuon Naron said that improving the education sector in the Kingdom is a challenge that must met head-on in order for the country to reach regional standards.
“As we can see, Thailand spends about nine times as much as Cambodia does per student, let alone the spending for students in Singapore,” he said, noting that in Thailand 46 percent of 15 year-old students can achieve the minimum proficiency level in mathematics compared to just ten percent in Cambodia.
He added that the budget will be used transparently, with accountability, and the ministry’s work will undergo assessments and evaluations to ensure reforms are working.
“I don’t make the decision on where to spend the money alone, it’s a ministry decision,” he said. “But if departments don’t spend the money properly, then we will send an audit team to inspect the expenditures.”
“You can’t spend money outside of the plan,” he added.
The ministry has been undergoing reforms since Mr Chuon Naron took its helm in 2013, with his first order of business being to revamp the national exam for high school students and eradicate cheating to ensure student development.
With the minister now able to mark his exam campaign as a success – cheating is down and grades are up – he plans to focus on modernising the education sector next year, raising the standard of school to match those in Singapore.
Key to this goal is the implementation of the New Generation School programme, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines through a new curriculum and the modernisation of teaching and learning methods.
The NGS programme has already been launched in 100 schools across the country. Students who wish to attend the programme must take an entrance exam in the fields of STEM.
“I believe that some teachers are still tutoring students using their own methods, but once this programme is fully implemented, I am confident the new approach will be adopted by all,” he said.
Heng Vanda, chairman of the Higher Education Association, said on Tuesday that he has been impressed with the direction the Education Ministry has been taking under the leadership of Mr Chuon Naron.
Mr Vanda said the increase in budget for the education sector and its ongoing reforms are key moves to ensure the quality of schooling improves in the Kingdom.
“I am so happy to see the Ministry of Education injecting more funds to the sector and to its grassroots level,” he said. “The focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a long term investment that will pay off.”
Over the past five years, the education sector has seen remarkable progress, especially in tackling corruption, Mr Vanda added.
“I would say that under the current Minister of Education, we will no longer see corruption as a big issue,” he said. “For a few years already, bribery during examinations has disappeared.”
“As long as the Minister of Education keeps implementing his clean principles, corruption will be eliminated,” he added. “Trust me, the current Minister of Education is an honest man.”
Khat Sothy, a teacher at Prekleap High School in Phnom Penh, said that he believes the education sector has improved remarkably since Mr Chuon Naron took office.
“I have noted that teacher salaries keep increasing, the quality of teaching keeps improving and students are learning more,” he said.
However, the quality Cambodian students remain far behind those in Thailand and Singapore, he noted.
He said that because of this, the continued reforms and more investment planned for the sector are vital to the country as a whole.
“I was sad to see in the past that some of our Grade 5 and 6 students at public school didn’t know how to read and write properly,” he said. “This is going to change.”