Cambodian Girls Fighting for Higher Education

by Dara Chea

©Jonas Hansel/2011/Licenced Under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Some Cambodian youths still face challenges in getting access to education even though the Ministry of Education has put so much effort in developing the education system within the country. In particular, most Cambodian youths in rural areas do not have a great chance to receive a good education like those in the city.

Many of them may only be able to finish high school, but not all of them will have the chance to go to university. They desperately want to continue their studies but their family simply cannot afford for them to pursue a higher education.

Below are the stories of two Cambodian girls who are struggling to study in university and therefore to fulfill their dreams and create better lives for themselves. These stories deeply touched me. They show me that many Cambodians still lag behind others in pursuing a higher education. Let’s hear their voices on the struggles they are currently facing.

The first story came about when the media team of Klahan9, a BBC Media Action project with a focus on preparing youth for employment, went to Preah Vihear province to conduct a training to provide young people with guidance and support so that they could achieve their dream goals.

   ©The Documentary Group/2010/Licenced Under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A girl with a sullen face came to join the training. She had been forced to migrate to Thailand to seek a job instead of continuing her studies at university due to the lack of financial support from her family. She told us with tears flowing down her face that her life would have been better had our provided this training three years ago.

At that time, she was in a deadlock. No one came to inform her on what to do next after her high school completion – how she could go to her favorite university like others, and especially how she could get vocational skills at the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Center in the province and get a decent job without needing to be a worker in our neighboring country. These were her words:

      “I’m really thankful to all of you for organizing this training and bringing about so much useful information on education and job seeking. I really wanted to go to university like others, but the situation in my family stopped me from doing so. I was so happy when I knew that I got a Grade B in the BacII Examination, and so were my parents. But it was not easy for me when it came time to make a decision for my next stage.

     Actually, even though I could get a scholarship to study in Phnom Penh at the time, it was still impossible for me to continue my studies  because I needed financial support – mainly for the costs of my daily living – so that I could stay and study at university in the city.

    “My family is poor, so money poses many questions for me like: How could my parents support my study? Would they need to sell all pieces of land or perhaps go for a big loan from the bank just to support a daughter’s education in the city? If they could, how about their everyday living? How could I survive for four years until I graduate and get a good job to help my family? It’s too far and hard for us as poor people to do so. That’s why I dropped my dream to go to university, and migrated to Thailand to find a job and earn money to help sustain my family instead. It was a possibility for us at the time.”

Many other girls also reported facing such issues as financial problems, lack of information, guidance, and other supports which, in turn, posed such difficulty for them to make their decisions and find ways to overcome these limitations.

Another moving story was from another girl who lives in Siem Reap province. She too, needed to overcome obstacles for her education. I learnt about this issue when I was part of the Klahan9 training in Siem Reap.

She revealed that she was finding it very hard to make a decision about her future career after she finished high school. She didn’t know what to do in the future or how to seek information on what university, which major or career path she should follow.

Since she was living in a women’s center, which is supported by a Local NGO, she was restricted on using smartphones, for Facebook in particular, and was permitted to use it only twice per month. She could only access it regularly whenever she had the chance to visit her home. This made it difficult for her to access information about education online, thus leaving her behind her fellow peers in this modern world.

©Bryon Lippincott/2017/ Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

She said, “I don’t really know what I should do or need to prepare for my study since it’s the last year of  my high school life – a time I need to focus on my BAC II Examination. I’ve started to feel pressure and be hard on myself when it comes to thinking about my future – what major I should choose, what job I should take, and particularly, what I should do now to build a bridge towards the future I dream of. I really want to go to university with the hope that I can get my dream job after graduation. ”

After meeting with all of those young people and learning about their hardships, I was overwhelmed with despair. I couldn’t forget their life stories, how they struggled to fight for a good education and reach for their dreams. I couldn’t believe this is still a struggle for many people, as I believe it should have been better by now. I was startled to see that all of the issues I encountered several years ago are still true for the younger generation today, and it’s really sad and even hopeless to know that some of them dropped their education and risked their lives by migrating to other countries to find a job just for the sake of living.

These two stories really touched me. They pose many questions to me, such as how could I help those girls to go to university? What are possible ways to help girls from poor families get access to a good education? This experience hit my heart so hard. But at the same time, it also made me more mindful of this issue. It did inspire me to push myself and put all of my efforts into finding ways to help those girls as well as other Cambodian youths to have a fair and good education. I know that I myself cannot shoulder this problem alone, but all I can do now is voice this matter to all of you out there.

Therefore, after reading this article, I hope that we all can join our heart and hands to take collective actions to help all Cambodian youths who are still left behind to have better opportunities in education.  


Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.


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