While Cambodia has made significant strides in terms of expanding enrollments, and even in completion of education for both girls and boys, the quality of Cambodia’s education system and its overall disregard for gender mainstreaming in the classroom at all levels is disappointing. Teachers tend to be ill-trained and not up to date on student-centered teaching methods or on gender-equitable teaching. Texts tend to reinforce traditional gender role models, school facilities tend to be under-maintained and lacking in many basic needs, and curriculum fails to prepare students to enter the working world upon graduation. Improvement in quality, transparency, and accountability in schools is difficult, again due to the system of patronage embedded in Cambodian society and the necessity of reporting up the ladder. A quality evaluation system does not exist for hiring school personnel, resulting in female candidates being passed over for less qualified male candidate. Evaluating teacher effectiveness at the local level is difficult, and because many administrators and teachers receive the job because of patronage, there is little accountability (Tan, 2008). When school personnel cannot be fairly evaluated based upon their skills and abilities, it dampens the desire to improve performance in the classroom – especially when very low and irregular disbursement of pay is involved and no effort is made to alter cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality.
Textbooks past the primary level do not represent concepts of “gender equality and social inclusion especially in line with the policies of the education reform”. Though there is indication that with donor partner intervention, some changes may be forthcoming, the most recent textbooks do not yet reflect gender fairness or equality. The standard cultural norms are adhered to, showing men as doctors, lawyers, engineers and managers and women portrayed as weavers, housekeepers, mothers, and shop attendants. When questioned about the lack of adherence to written policy, curriculum “specialists” (most of whom were male and lacked appropriate training and knowledge to write curriculum) responded that the people of Cambodia were not ready to face gender equality and that the texts would be too shocking for them.
As MoEYS statistics show, the large majority of children out of school reside in rural areas, and most of these children are girls. There are an alarming number of disparities and inequalities between regions throughout the country and between socio-economic groups. The most significant poverty can be found in the rural areas, and even for children attending school, there is large absenteeism due to parents’ need for the children to work at home.
In rural areas it is very difficult to find strong female role models. There are few female teachers throughout the country and even fewer in rural schools, so there is typically no encouragement from educators for girls to further their education past the primary level. In addition, in both rural and urban schools, there are even fewer women in managerial positions due to lack of professional qualifications and education and, as previously mentioned, patronage issues.
As rural women are culturally constrained by attitudes and rules and their place on the hierarchical ladder, urban women with upper secondary and tertiary educations can also fail to gain equality in the work or political sectors. This is true for both position and salary. Elite women, who are better connected, will typically run up against a wall when attempting to be promoted or face resistance from family regarding continuing to work once they marry. There is less economic incentive for women since women formally employed in businesses in Cambodia make an estimated 30% less than men working the same job.
Women who have only obtained a primary education face the excuse from prospective employers that they are “unqualified” due to their low level of education and lack of professional qualifications. This, combined with cultural constraints, makes it very difficult for girls with only a primary school education to have any upward career mobility.
With little education, women who want or need to work are faced with leaving the safety and protection of home at sometimes a fairly young age to work as domestic workers in the city or in garment factories. Either means of employment can involve poor working conditions, low pay and possible exploitation. Garment factories run by global companies hire a great many young women from the country each year. All employment is informal, and there are no protections for the young women who work in them. Pay is low as the demand for employment requiring little training or education is high.