The Education System in Cambodia

Primary school students in Cambodia
Primary school students in Cambodia

In this post, Sokhan Khut, Country Manager for Cambodia at BOOKBRIDGE, gives a short introduction to the Cambodian Education System.

In Cambodia, an education system has been in place since at least from the thirteenth century on. Traditionally, Cambodian education took place in the Wats (Buddhist monasteries) and was offered exclusively to the male population. The education involved basic literature, the foundation of religion and skills for daily life like carpentry, artistry, craftwork, constructing, playing instruments etc.

This ‘traditional’ education was gradually changed when Cambodia was a French colony (1863-1953). The French introduced a formal education system influenced by a Western educational model, which was developed through the independence period (1960s), alongside with the traditional education. During the following civil wars, the education system suffered a chronic crisis and was completely destroyed during the Red Khmer regime (1970s).  Between 1980s and 1990s, education was reconstructed from almost ‘nothing’ and has been gradually developed until now.

Presently, after its reform in 1996, the formal educational structure of Cambodia is formulated in 6+3+3. This means 12 years for the completion of general education that divides up into six years for primary education (grade 1 to 6) and six years for secondary general education (grade 7 to 12). Secondary education consists of three years each for lower secondary education (grade 7 to 9) and upper secondary education (grade 10 to 12). This formulation does not include at least one year for pre-school education (kindergarten) for children from 3 to below 6 years old and universitary education of 4 to 5 years.
Two others components of Cambodian educational structure involve non-formal education providing all children, youth, adult, disabled people with literacy and access to life skills. The other component is teacher training education. This allows students that successfully completed grade 12 or grade 9 to pursue teacher certificates at provincial teacher training colleges (for primary school teachers) or regional teacher training centers (for lower secondary school teachers).

Currently, the educational system is run by the Cambodian state, but private education exists at all levels and is run by private sectors. Most private schools offering pre-school education and general education have been operated by the communities of ethnic and religious minority including Chinese, Muslim, French, English and Vietnamese. Private higher education is accessible mainly in the capital of the country, but it is also available throughout the provinces of Cambodia.

Cambodian general education is based on a national school curriculum that consists of two main parts: basic education and upper secondary education. Basic education curriculum is divided into three cycles of three years each. The first cycle (grade 1-3) consists of 27-30 lessons per week lasting 40 minutes which are allocated to the five main subjects:
•    Khmer (13 lessons)
•    Maths (7 lessons)
•    Science & Social Studies including Arts (3 lessons)
•    Physical and Health Education (2 lessons) and local life skills program (2-5 lessons)

The second cycle (grade 4-6) comprises of the same number of lessons but is slightly different:
•    Khmer (10 for grade 4 and 8 for grade 5-6)
•    Maths (6 for grade 4-6)
•    Science (3 for grade 4 and 4 for grade 5-6)
•    Social Studies including arts (4 for grade 4 and 5 for grade 5-6)
•    Physical and Health Education (2 for grade 4-6)
•    Local life skills program (2-5 for grade 4-6).

The third cycle (grade 7-9) consists of 32-35 lessons which are allocated for 7 major subjects:
•    Khmer
•    Maths
•    Social Studies and Science (6 lesson respectively)
•    Foreign languages (4 lessons)
•    Physical & Health Education and Sports (2 lessons)
•    Local life skills program (2-5 lessons)

Upper Secondary Education curriculum consists of two different phases. The curriculum for the first phase (grade 10) is identical to the third cycle of primary education (see above).  The second phase (grade 11-12) has two main components: Compulsory and Electives. Compulsory involves four major subjects with different numbers of lesson allocated per week: Khmer literature (6 lessons), Physical & Health Education and Sports (2 lessons), Foreign language: English or French (must choose one, 4 lessons each) and Mathematics: Basic or Advance (must choose one, 4 or 8 lesson respectively). Electives include three major subjects covering four or five sub-subjects with four lessons allocated per week for each one (students may choose one or two or three of them):
•    Science: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Studies
•    Social Studies: Moral/Civics, History, Geography, Economics
•    EVEP: ICT/Technology, Accounting Business Management, Local Vocational Technical Subject, Tourism and Arts Education and other subjects

For those choosing Basic Maths or Advance Maths must choose four sub-subjects or three subjects respectively from the electives.

9 thoughts on “The Education System in Cambodia

  • Good,and it helps more the youths pursue a stable job, with a higher income.

  • Nothing has got even marginally better in the last 10 years I have been involved in the Khmer education system. (May 2016). It’s nothing short of a joke.

    The whole system is riddled with corruption, greed and nepotism. The International schools are money factories churning out pupils with useless qualifications and into a society that has crippling unemployment.

    As for Western teachers working in Cambodia (Phnom Penh in particular), they are treated abominably. Low rates of pay, paraded in front of schools in the morning and at lunchtimes in order to encourage the parents to think that the school they have sent their children to is really good; whilst employing Filipino teachers at about $6 per hour. No wonder private tuition is in such high demand. #Cambodia #Education

  • Let’s hope things get better.

  • Debra Kreisberg says:

    I really could use advice. I have been sponsoring a young girl. She goes I guess to public school have a day and to private IQ school which is like British Primary half day which I pay for. I have been paying $500 a year for half day. Now they want $1000 a year for half day. This is just crazy. I really need someone to help me find a good affordable place for this bright girl so I can sponsor her throughout her education.

  • Chakriya says:

    I have no comment related to Cambodia education system, but i just wanna comment about what you are writing in below
    {Cambodia was a French colony (1853-1963).} as i have studied Cambodia was colony by French start from 1863 until 1953.

  • Steffen says:

    Hello, I’d like to support in the future education of a particular child living in Sihanoukville. Can anybody give me a hand with this?

  • ellen says:

    i love how this gives a brief idea of what the children do at school for i am going over to cambodia for a vist with my nana next year

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