The History Of Literacy In CAMBODIA
By: Pech Saory.Picture by:NFE Department. ( September, 2002 Volume 2 No.9 )

Education is very important in human resource training. To encourage only Formal Education essentially means not being able to achieve the goal of education for all. The Council of Ministers has, in the middle of August, strongly supported non-formal education. It is seen as equally important as formal education. The depth of this conviction was apparent when they pledged $500,000 towards such activities, for this year alone. With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world - over 4 million people are unable to read, the vast majority, some 70%, are women; it is no surprise there are plans to improve.
In support of this view, the whole world has approved 8 September as a day for celebration of International Literacy Day. This shows that attention is being paid to non- formal education (NFE) and the challenges faced within this field. Cambodia started the first literacy activities in 1964, under the royal duties of Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, His Majesty the King of Cambodia. This work was conducted actively throughout the country. The National Literacy Campaign, from 1964 - 1966, succeeded notably. At the time the Conference of UNESCO in Tehran, Iran, the Kingdom of Cambodia was awarded the Mohamed Raza Paleni Medal : worth approximately 5,000 US dollars.

From 1970 to 1978, Cambodia fell into the flame of civil war; during that time nearly all of the education system was destroyed. At the beginning of 1979, the new government: the State of Cambodia, was established. From the local to the centralized levels, national institutions were prepared, of which the educational field was one. The Department of Adult Education was also established on May 15th, 1979. Their aim was to actively encourage adult education and achieve the results required by the National Committee of Combating Illiteracy and Complementary Education, which Samdech Heng Samrin was the chairman.
The organizing of the network of adult education was to incorporate both the central and the local levels. It is in charge of two main duties: illiteracy eradication and complementary education, for all kinds of people, personnel and workers. This was according to the emergency needs of the Nation. Thus it was approved that June 19th would be National Literacy Day. There have been two National Literacy Campaigns, the first started in 1980 and ran until 1983 and the second, from 1983 to 1986. These lowered the illiteracy rate considerably, dropping below the one million mark. The National Conference of Literacy, at the beginning of 1988, claimed that Cambodia had physically passed illiteracy. Complementary Education has also made strong progress. There are many kinds of learning: there are 18 complementary schools, 32 semi-complementary schools, and 108 part-time complementary schools. For the learning grades, there are levels from primary to upper secondary education. Actually, from 1979 to 1999, there were 17,390 students who got primary certificates, 39,015 students who got lower secondary diplomas, and 19,702 students who got upper secondary diplomas.

Since 1988, adult education, especially literacy, has dropped. Illiteracy has increased rapidly and neo - literacy has become the relapse. All school age children do not necessarily have access to schools. With children out of primary school the rate is at a high level. Overall, the literacy movement during this period had nearly no activities. The work was carried out through non-governmental organizations and women's associations. However, the Complementary Education sector still had many good activities, but it too showed the points of decrease: step by step.
Through the Chum Tian Conference on Education for All, Thailand in 1990, and National Conference on Education for All, in Phnom Penh, in 1991, adult education has effected the Cambodian people strongly. This was especially true of a great number of educational officials who usually pretended to be deaf-mute and to not know this work. The vision of education for all has indicated that, in order for the whole education system to be successful, it is necessary that we do both tasks: Formal and Non-Formal Education at the same time. To illustrate this it can be said that, these two forms are like both the wings of bird that support the whole bird body. Through the education for all vision and at the same time as the Open National Policy, some leaders and officials of the Adult Education Department were sent to participate in training courses and workshops on Non-Formal Education abroad, especially in Asia-Pacific Region.
Armed with this knowledge, in 1992 the government initiated to change the Adult Education Department into Non-Formal Education Department (NFED), and carried out work regarding curriculum and management structures. The Non-Formal Education Department has two main duties: to eliminate illiteracy through Professional Literacy and Continuing Education. Through non-formal education reform, UNESCO and UNICEF have closely cooperated on financial and material support to this Department. National workshops were conducted continuously, in order to train the human resources serving this task. Another advancement was the establishment of contracted literacy teacher training, which started its first course in 1997. On the other hand, UNESCO ACCU, ILO/IPEC, and other NGOs cooperated closely with Non-Formal Education Department by providing non-formal education experience to encourage the growth of non-formal education. As a result of non-formal education expansion through the Community Learning Centers (CLCs), today there are four Community Learning Centers: all are achieving good results. To ensure that non-formal education was effective, the National Literacy Survey Committee was established on July 15th, 1999. This committee finished successfully by identifying exactly the net illiteracy rates in Cambodia. The National Workshop on Non-Formal Education Management Information System (NFE-MIS) was held at the end of 2001. These showed these necessary tasks and the advancement of non-formal education in Cambodia.

Overall, from 1979 until 2002, the non-formal education has progressed regularly in accord with true situation in Cambodian society. From year to year we have reformed many tasks such as curricula, all legal papers and documents, and other sections. The system has come a long way over the years. The shift from literacy and innumeracy towards professional literacy has been a great leap forward. In this way the people have been more able to realize their problems and express their ideas for solutions to the issues they face.

The bright results of non-formal education are lighting everywhere, and making both people, local authorities and concerned institutions, participate actively. As a result of this effort, more than 30,000 people each year pass out of the veil of illiteracy. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS), which has NFE Department as their expert Department, will expand NFE coverage through their Priority Action Plan (PAP), 2002. This NFE coverage expansion is to eliminate illiteracy in Cambodia, in accord with the Dakar International Conference Declaration on Education for All that stated that each Member Countries should alleviate illiteracy by 50% by 2015. While this may seem a tough job, with the success of the past to inspire, it is an optimistic outlook regarding Non Formal Education and the ongoing quest to stamp out illiteracy from the kingdom.