After the Khmer Rouge period, the late 1990s represented a transition from emergency relief to reconstruction and development in Cambodia. In 1997, Cambodia ranked 137th out of 174 countries on UNDP's Human Development Index and, according to the Cambodia Socioeconomic Survey, net primary enrollment rates were a mere 55 percent.
This project aimed to develop and put into practice a participatory approach to school quality improvement and performance-based resource management. The goal was to have participating schools eventually show improvements in student enrollment, attendance and achievement. It also set out to strengthen and enrich government policy through more innovative practices at the school level.
Students in more than 1,000 participating schools in Cambodia achieved higher test scores in literacy, had lower drop-out and higher promotion rates. On average, in each of the 172 school clusters supported by the project, around 40 students who may have dropped out of school each year, stayed on.
- Among the different quality improvement interventions in the program, money invested in teacher development had the highest pay-off in terms of student retention, promotion and student learning. Cost-effectiveness calculations show that even small amounts spent on teacher training may have a large impact on learning.
- Extensive classroom observations by an independent impact assessment team show evidence of teachers adopting child-friendly approaches to classroom routines, management and teaching.
- Health and vocational training had a measurable effect on reducing student drop-out. Investments in equipment and school infrastructure were also important factors in improving promotion rates.
- At the district level, the project helped the Office of Education's efforts at decentralization through the provision of support services.
- This successful pilot was used as a model for the development of education projects in Indonesia and Afghanistan.
- The total cost of the project was US$4.9 million, entirely financed by IDA through a Learning and Innovation Loan.
- The project provided on-the-ground evidence of the feasibility of decentralizing financial management processes for education, by introducing direct disbursements to schools.
- The project played an important role in boosting the status of the District Office of Education by giving it a key role in supporting decentralization, thus considerably improving communications and coordination within districts.
- The NGO 2003 Consultative Group Statement identified, among others, some of the experiences piloted in this project as best practice.
The project served as a platform to establish partnerships with the World Food Program (WFP), the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) - all of which contributed complementary funding and interventions for the project. WFP established a community-driven school breakfast program in a sample of schools, while VSO (with DfID funding) placed volunteer facilitators at the local level to support school and administrative staff capacity building, school development planning and school effectiveness strengthening.
The Education Sector Plan 2006-10 promotes a rigorous agenda to increase access to basic education, improve the quality and relevance of schooling and enhance decentralized management and efficiency of educational services. The Cambodia Education Sector Support Project, a follow-on to the project discussed here, is closely aligned with these goals. It sets out to make access to educational services more equitable by reducing cost barriers to schooling, and to improve the quality of education through decentralization of school management, professional development for teachers, provision of instructional materials and more systematic student performance monitoring.
Kingdom of Cambodia: Education Quality Improvement Project (1999 - 2004)