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Page 1


International Institute
for Educational Planning

Education in emergencies and reconstruction

Education and

Fragility in Cambodia

IIEP research papers

Page 2

Education and Fragility in Cambodia

Page 29

Education and fragility in Cambodia; IIEP research papers; 2011

International Institute for Educational Planning


4 Fragility in Cambodia: Current drivers and dynamics

There exists a growing consensus that Cambodia is more stable now than it has been over much
of the past several decades. However, signifi cant concerns still exist. In 2009, The Economist
Intelligence Unit ranked Cambodia as the fourth most unstable country in the world, tied
with Sudan, and ahead of both Iraq and Afghanistan (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2009). The
present-day fragility context in Cambodia in many ways mirrors the past, with a number of
drivers pulling on the national fabric in a manner resembling the preceding decades.

The most salient concern surrounds the single-party system, both enabled and augmented
by the patron-client tradition, which is fi rmly controlled by the CPP. A number of grievances
stem from this tight governance: media control and censorship, the inability to express dissent,
political disempowerment (particularly of opposition parties), a culture of intimidation and fear,
severely limited legal recourse, widespread land-grabbing, a dearth of non-state resources,
institutions weakened by patronage, and policies without implementation.

Economic and social marginalization further exacerbate political disenfranchisement,
leaving all but the most privileged Cambodians frustrated and cynical: corruption permeates
all parts of society and widens the gap between the rich and poor, leading to a culture of
complicity and powerlessness (Nissen, 2004: 4). Employment prospects for a burgeoning youth
demographic are dismal (Morris, 2004). The poor and rural population is often excluded from
access to basic services due to second-rate infrastructure and the coupling of corruption and
inadequate domestic resources as a result of formal tax payments that entrench poor health and
education services (Calavan, Diaz Briquets, and O’Brien, 2004: 5). Community structures remain
broken and the pervasive distrust that has usurped social cohesion inhibits many marginalized
groups from uniting to further their welfare (Tan, 2008: 563). The nation’s traumatic past is not
often openly spoken of, and wounds from the past have not yet healed, and have not yet been
learned from.

At the same time, key actors in society deftly promote resiliencies that mitigate fragility,
at least in the short term (Interagency Confl ict Assessment, 2009). In present day Cambodia,
one such mitigating factor is relative peace of general stability and security; after decades of
violence, Cambodia is currently experiencing its longest period without war in half a century, on
which a premium is placed, particularly by older generations. The government also provides a
minimum level of basic infrastructure and services (such as roads and electricity) to a signifi cant
portion of the population. These incremental improvements, although perhaps defi cient from
most external perspectives, may nevertheless represent a positive trend to many Cambodians
(Interagency Confl ict Assessment, 2009). Finally, the historically familiar promise of development,
modernization, and social mobility continues to punctuate the rhetoric of politicians. Although
by most accounts the government is the source of more grievance than gratitude, Cambodians’
desire for stability above all else engenders complacency and the maintenance of the status quo.

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Education and fragility in Cambodia; IIEP research papers; 2011

International Institute for Educational Planning


5 Cambodia in the coming years

‘The Cambodia of the coming decade will not be like the Cambodia of the last decade’
(Interagency Confl ict Assessment, 2009). The country has the opportunity to turn a corner if key
actors can maintain a stable state while mitigating patronage and corruption, diversifying the
economy, and improving social services. However, if it avoids these signifi cant reforms, it risks a
return to instability and violence (2009: 3). While many challenges are to come, a few stand out
as potentially major drivers of fragility over the next decade.

5.1 Demographic changes

While yet to exert signifi cant political pressure, the disproportionally large younger generation is
more materialistic and thus increasingly likely to disavow the status quo for promises of upward
mobility in a climate of rising expectations. Having never been formally taught of the genocide
or experienced Vietnamese occupation, Cambodian youth may be much less motivated to
maintain ‘stability at any cost’. While this erosion of the collective memory has the potential to
yield a foundation for activism, it also exposes the threat of reprisals by a strict government
should the system be shaken.

The demographic shift, decline in traditional livelihoods, and the recent saturation or
decline of major industries all suggest increased competition for jobs and consequently youth
unemployment. While youth joblessness may well be a driver of instability in terms of gang
involvement, drug use, and crime, this group has yet to contribute signifi cantly to fragility at a
macro level. That said, there is evidence that the government is concerned: in contradiction to
years of eff ort to demobilize its oversized army, the government in 2006 passed a conscription
law making young Cambodian men liable to serve a mandatory 18 months in the military.
Some sources have suggested that one motivation for this move is to stave off a looming
unemployment crisis (BBC, 2006).

5.2 Perpetuation of patronage

The same immunities to change which have seduced the current generation into imitating
the mistakes of the previous ones are likely to perpetuate. For example, the recent increase in
young males joining violent gangs is characteristic of mostly the wealthy and privileged male
demographic in Cambodia. Mimicking society’s patronage hierarchy, wealthy young people
benefi t from powerful familial or intra-familial connections, which allow them to join alliances
with other privileged young men to manage supporters from the less privileged class. The
privileged youth reward loyalty from the less privileged with protection and other material
benefi ts in gang participation. The Cambodian people ‘accept the oppressive, corrupts and
violent behaviour of patrons in return for a degree of societal stability’ in these youth gangs.
This is one example of social organization among youth that arises because of lack of other
cohesive community or social structures in their demographic. This means that the patronage
system is reinforced and legitimized in Cambodian society even among youth in an unhealthy
way (Gender and Development for Cambodia, 2003).

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Education and fragility in Cambodia; IIEP research papers; 2011

The International Institute for Educational Planning

The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) is an international centre for advanced training
and research in the fi eld of educational planning. It was established by UNESCO in 1963 and is fi nanced by
UNESCO and by voluntary contributions from Member States. In recent years the following Member States
have provided voluntary contributions to the Institute: Australia, Denmark, India, Ireland, Netherlands,
Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The Institute’s aim is to contribute to the development of education throughout the world, by expanding
both knowledge and the supply of competent professionals in the fi eld of educational planning. In this
endeavour the Institute cooperates with training and research organizations in Member States. The IIEP
Governing Board, which approves the Institute’s programme and budget, consists of a maximum of eight
elected members and four members designated by the United Nations Organization and certain of its
specialized agencies and institutes.


Raymond E. Wanner (USA)
Senior Adviser on UNESCO issues, United Nations Foundation, Washington DC, USA.

Designated Members:

Christine Evans-Klock
Director, ILO Skills and Employability Department, ILO, Geneva, Switzerland.

Carlos Lopes
Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director,
United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Geneva, Switzerland.

Jamil Salmi
Lead Education Specialist, Education Sector, World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.

Guillermo Sunkel
Social Aff airs Offi cer, Social Development Division (ECLAC), Santiago, Chile.

Elected Members:

Aziza Bennani (Morocco)
Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Morocco to UNESCO, Paris, France.

Nina Yefi movna Borevskaya (Russia)
Chief Researcher and Project Head, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Moscow.

Birger Fredriksen (Norway)
Consultant on Education Development for the World Bank.

Ricardo Henriques (Brazil)
Special Adviser of the President, National Economic and Social Development Bank.

Takyiwaa Manuh (Ghana)
Professor, Former Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

Jean-Jacques Paul (France)
Professor of Economics of Education, Department of Economics and Business Administration,
University of Bourgogne, Dijon.

Xinsheng Zhang (China)
Vice-Minister of Education, Beijing.

Inquiries about the Institute should be addressed to:
The Offi ce of the Director, International Institute for Educational Planning,

7–9 rue Eugène Delacroix, 75116 Paris, France

Page 59

The study

Cambodia today is one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. While signifi cant
improvements have been made since the Khmer Rouge regime and the civil war, a fundamental
fragility exists beneath the current perception of stability.

While the state of education in Cambodia has greatly improved over the past two decades in
reaching more children than ever before and in ensuring increased equal access to students
of all ethnic, socio-economic and geographical backgrounds, major shortcomings related to
fragility continue to limit progress.

This report, published by UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP),
examines the impact of education on fragility in Cambodia through a review of the interaction
of education with the drivers and dynamics of fragility.

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