It is crucial to provoke some thoughts of the initial stage of non-formal and informal education in Cambodia. Community Learning Centers (CLCs) are the means to deliver non-formal and informal education. The concept of non-formal education appeared in Cambodia in 1990 when the community learning center first germinated to deliver continuous programs to foster lifelong learning.
The nation-wide community learning centers were primarily conducted by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (MOYES) through governmental budgets in 2003. According to UNESCO (2013), the community learning center is a center that is under a community level institution to foster human resource development through graining equal opportunities for lifelong learning to all people in the community.
Community learning centers are considered the schools of non-formal and informal education based on the Department of Non-Formal Education (DNFE) of MOEYS. Moreover, some particular programs such as functional literacy, post-literacy, equivalency programs, re-entry programs, income generation, life skills, and other programs are running in the CLCs.
For instance, 356 CLCs in 2008 had 7,819 literacy classes with 165,001 students, in which there were roughly 1,279 non-formal primary education equivalency classes with 25,608 students. There were the decreasing numbers in re-entry program classes from 1,059 in 2014 to 636 in 2018 in parallel with the declining numbers of students from 17,938 to 11,404, and 2,991 vocational training classes, with 41,246 learners.
Although there is a remarkable improvement in community learning centers by the Cambodian government’s concerted efforts in collaboration with developing partners, such as ILO, DVV, and NFUAJ, the arising challenges in the CLCs have been notified.
Notably, some of the CLCs do not function well and closed their doors, which could push the CLCs to the edge of danger. The challenges in the CLCs precipitate due to the lack of understanding about the significances of CLCs, inadequate physical infrastructures, and lack of conducive environment in the CLCs, the problems of community participation, the shortage of human resources, and low budget allocation.
Besides, manual and master plans to operate the CLCs are vital to strengthening the quality of providing educational programs to meet the demands of the community and put their problems into the solution. There are not enough qualified training teachers to teach and provide enough skills and knowledge to learners to fulfill the job market demands. Those conspicuous issues are significant challenges, which have great impacts on the future sustainability of the CLCs.
To grapple with those challenges, the further enhancement of management and leadership capacity of CLC committee members are needed to provide attractive and responsive programs and activities to community people. Redesigning teaching curriculum by swapping from pedagogy to andragogy focuses is essential to teach and facilitate adult learners. Remarkably, the learners’ participation should be reinforced by the teachers or facilitators through granting equal chances for the learners to participate in diagnosing their needs and planning programs. By doing so, the teachers can teach based on their needs and build their sense of belonging and commitment. Moreover, to tackle the career pathway issue, CLCs should implement public-private partnerships (PPP) to diversify learners’ job opportunities and assist them to generate more incomes.
Similarly, the government can connect one CLC to another to exchange their knowledge and skills as well as to extend the scope of training programs, and recruit qualified trainers and facilitators, which is compulsory to operate quality programs and activities for the learners. Consequently, the learners will learn various skills and knowledge to reach the demands of job market. The participation of community people in the monitoring and evaluation process can help CLCs receive constructive feedback for their future improvement and learn from their drawbacks. Hence, there is a requisition of three main actors, such as the government, development partners, and the community, to make their concerted efforts and collaboration to sustain community learning centers.
It is undeniable that the government is working together with other relevant stakeholders to improve and develop community learning centers to become lifelong learning centers in the future. Human resource development and management capacity building should be carried on and conducted to operate the CLCs well. The augmentation of budget and disbursing it in a timely manner are crucial to strengthen and enlarge training programs and activities in the CLCs. Furthermore, it is also crucial to facilitate access to microcredit for learners, notably, those who have graduated from income generation programs to put their knowledge and skills into practices as well as to invest in their business. Once community centers are well-functioning, the community people will be able to get access to equitable quality education as well as to complement the gaps of formal education. No doubt, a desirable dream of Cambodia’s aim to become an upper-middle income country by 2030 and a high-income-country by 2050 can be realised through robust establishment mechanisms and guidelines to implement community learning centers in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Neak Piseth is the founder of “The Way of Life Cambodia.” He is pursuing master’s degree in Non-Formal Education, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He has been working as an Assistant to Director at Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center, and an English Lecturer of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Particularly, he is an author of the book “The Genuine Chapters of Life” and a reviewer at Cambodian Education Forum.