Unfair Treatment of Women Persists in Cambodia

Woman at Market - Kep - Cambodia Although small gains have been made, in general Cambodian woman still fall behind their male peers regarding education and positions within the labor market. According to a study conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), men make up only 5% more of the 7.4 million-person workforce, however on average they earn approximately $25.00 more per month.

Ros Sopheap, Executive Director of NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, attributes this difference to inequalities regarding the calibre of education received by both men and woman. “There are some changes if you compare to 10 years before, but the changes have not come as far as we want,” said Sopheab.

For many traditional Cambodians, men are viewed as having an important role within the family to study in higher education, whereas women are encouraged to enter the workforce and financially contribute to the family instead of focusing on education.

The ILO’s Labor Force Report revealed that more than 1.14 million women had never attended school, which is more than double that of men surveyed. The majority of women surveyed provided answers that corroborated with Sopheab’s thoughts that they didn’t attend school since their parents would not allow it. Some others also stated they didn’t attend school due to their family’s inability to pay for school, or simply living too far a distance from a school.

Surprisingly, more woman than men finish primary school, yet they account for only 43% of Cambodia’s secondary school graduates. Of the percentage of woman completing secondary school, only 32% of them go on to complete university. As a result of women not completing schooling the whole way through, often they become vulnerable when entering the workforce are subject to unjust exploitation.

For instance, within the garment industry in Cambodia, women are consistently placed in unstable positions in the labor market. According to the ILO report, more than 80% of Cambodia’s garment workers are women who fall victim to poor working conditions and unfair compensation earning just $75 per month which is far below the amount stipulated by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance of $281 per month.

Women who never attended or dropped out of school are aware of the link between education and increased opportunities, so there has been an rise in literacy among the current working-age Cambodians. This past year, Cambodia has had a 2% increase in literate workers, mostly from rural women, so there is hope of a growing literate workforce of women in the future.

Creative Commons Love: Global Photo Archive on

Cambodia to Teach Anti-corruption in Schools

Children of Roteang Village SchoolThe Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, declared that the state will incorporate anti-corruption curricula into the national school system. This decision came in time for International Anti-Corruption Day. It is also a response to Cambodia’s reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to Transparency International’s annual corruption index, Cambodia ranked 160 out of 177 countries evaluated, making it the most corrupt country in Southeast Asia as perceived by investors and the private sector.

Cambodia‘s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is working together with the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit to develop lessons that will teach students about corruption. Once completed, a committee will convene to review these lesson plans before they are incorporated into the national school system’s curricula in 2014.

This educational initiative is part of the Cambodian government’s ongoing battle to stop corruption in the country. Most recently, 25 government officials were sent to a 20-day course this month at the China Academy of Discipline Inspection and Supervision to learn strategies for avoiding and preventing corruption. There have been several attempts to improve anti-corruption strategies over the past few years, most notably the 2010 creation of the Anti-Corruption Unit. Although this development offered hope for improvement, according to Global Witness the Anti-Corruption Unit cannot stop corruption among high government officials because it is not run independent of the government.

Hun Sen has revisited the issue of corruption as he begins his new term as Prime Minister (from 2013-2018). He considers corruption to be a a factor in a variety of social, economic and political issues that continue to affect Cambodia’s development. For this reason, he announced “I would like to reiterate the firm commitment of the fifth term government in stamping out corruption, which is a major obstacle to economic development and poverty reduction.”

The question is whether new attempts to address corruption will be any more effective than those that have been tried in recent history.

The executive director of Transparency International Cambodie, Preab Kol stated “the government needs to enforce the anti-corruption law without exception. It needs to enhance its auditive and investigating systems to increase accountability. Third, raise awareness in the public to put pressure on and report crimes of corruption. If there is just political rhetoric and threats without any concrete measures, there is no hope for any improvement.”

Creative Commons Love: Beth Kanter at on

We’re Giving New Doctors a Boost at Angkor Hospital for Children

IMG_0874This September, Open Equal Free provided a study skills training program to Angkor Hospital for Children’s (AHC) medical residency program in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Like in much of the developing world, even advanced degrees can sometimes leave students with educational deficits. AHC works hard to bring doctors up to international standards by providing a rigorous medical residency program that rounds out and expands the education they received from local institutions through regular classes and guest speakers from around the world.

Open Equal Free joined the effort this month by providing six study skills workshops divided between the following three topics: note taking, reading for information, and efficient review of information for high-impact learning.

Taught by our very own executive director, Michael Jones, the workshops were designed to further prepare students to engage and retain information presented by guest speakers on topics ranging from dermatology to neonatal care. The goal is that students will now not only be able to understand the lectures, but will be adept at recording information learned in an efficient way and reviewing that information to increase retention and  learning so that they can fully apply it to their future work as doctors in Cambodia.

Creative Commons LoveJohn Chuidian

WISE Awards: Six Innovative Projects in Education

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) awarded six projects from around the world for their innovative and diverse approach to issues challenging global education. Selected from a group of 24 finalists (and 1,600 applicants), the six winners received a $20,000 prize each in addition to worldwide visibility.

And the winners are (drum roll, please):

Solar-Powered, Floating Schools (Bangladesh) ensure year-round education to students from flood-prone areas. Boats serve as both classrooms and school buses, taking students to and from school. Classrooms contain a shared laptop, mobile library, and solar-powered lanterns for night class. The initiative inspired solar water farming practices, stimulating economic growth and children’s nutritional health. The program won an additional award for “best innovative financing of primary education.”

Cristo Rey Network Corporate Work Study Program (United States) provides quality preparatory education to low-income students from 25 high schools. Students work to pay for their tuition fees while receiving hands-on training at entry-level positions. The program produced $37 million in revenue in the 2011-2012 academic year.

RoboBraille (Denmark) is a free web-based device that converts educational materials into formats such as Braille, mp3 files, audio books, e-books, and visual Braille. It presently benefits over 10,000 blind and other special needs students.

Satya Bharti School Program (India) delivers high-quality, holistic education to underprivileged children in rural India. It influences positive community organization and provides local income support through school-based job opportunities. Currently, 37,000 children (62,000 since 2006) are supported in 750 host villages.

PSU Educarchile (Chile) is the first online high school program to prepare students for the mandatory University Admission Test.  It provides free educational materials, mobile podcasts, and collaborative software to low-income students. The program now reaches 1,200,000 students per year.

Children Play with Garbage in Cambodia Slum

Cambodian Children’s Fund – Generational Change through Education (Cambodia) is a community-based program for the thousands of children who were forced to live and work in the garbage dump at Steung Meanchey. Students now have access to English language classes and computer training, as well as community medical support and care. In 2011, the program recorded 100% pass rates, 97% retention, and a less than 1% daily absentee rate for 635 children enrolled full-time.

The WISE Awards winners will take part in the annual WISE Summit from November 13-15 at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar.

For more information about the WISE Awards, please visit

Creative Commons Love: United Nations Photo and The Advocacy Project on Flickr

Malaysia Supports Regional ASEAN Education Collaborative

Malaysia has voiced its support to help create a “diffuse” educational framework across the borders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) member countries by utilizing the uniform, ASEAN Single Window (ASW) data initiative to develop quality education practices throughout their global region.
With the primary goal of promoting consistency, simplicity, transparency, and speedy efficiency in regional trade and economic growth, ASW is meant to strengthen and streamline uniform data within a regional bloc that includes: Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Seven of the countries have already completed a trial run of the Single Window system, and the final member countries are to make ASW operational by 2012.

In terms of education, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that the Single Window system should be a tool of permeability among the countries’ different education systems. Yassin, who is reportedly also Education Minister, said this ASW feature would include “student mobility programs with [a] credit transfer system between universities in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.”

In anticipation, China has reportedly launched school programs at its borders aimed at bolstering the study of ASEAN member countries’ languages by 2015 — the deadline for full integration of ASEAN’s economic plan.

Creative Commons Love: bernardoh on

Parts of Southeast Asia See Internet Boom

iLoveThe internet has become more prevalent in my neck of the woods, and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities this creates for better education in Cambodia and in developing countries nearby.

According to Internet World Stats, in 2011, Cambodia’s internet penetration more than doubled to 3.1% of the population.  That’s up from just 1.3% in 2010.  The country had 449,160 internet users at the end of 2011.

Pen Samitthy, President of the Club of Cambodian Journalists said, “The trend means that Cambodian people, especially the young generation, are finding a new way of communicating and getting information.  This is ending the monopoly over information by media companies.”

Below is a quick roundup of internet penetration in the other countries that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Internet Penetration (Shown as a percentage of the population)

Brunei:  79.4% (318,000 users)

Singapore:  77.2% (3.6 million users)

Malaysia:  61% (17.7 million users)

Vietnam:  34% (30.8 million users)

Philippines:  33%  (33.6 million users)

Thailand:  27% (18.3 million users)

Indonesia:  22% (55 million users)

Laos:  8% (527,000 users)

Myanmar:  0.2% (numbers not available)

Creative Commons Love: julian on

Open Equal Free Chief Going to Laos on a Fulbright!


We couldn’t be prouder of our Nerd-in-Chief Michael Jones.  He’s been awarded a Fulbright research grant to study education in rural Laos. He’s spent a lot of his career in schools in Thailand and Cambodia, so he’s excited to return to Southeast Asia this June.

The media in Michael’s home state of Florida are picking up on this big news too.  Click here to read the story in Sarasota’s Herald Tribune.


Click the video to hear Jones talk at TEDx University of Florida earlier this year.

Last year, Michael gave a talk at TEDx Phnom Penh on rethinking education for development. You can see it here.

Creative Commons Love: Jason Tabarias on

New Report Finds Preschools in Cambodia Doing Good

Samnang goes with orphanage sponsorship little story

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Beijing Normal University, Cornell University, and California Polytechnic State University have recently published an article in the journal Child Development which bodes well for early childhood education advocates in the developing world.

Nirmala Rao, professor of education at the University of Hong Kong noted, “Given current interest in developing preschool programs globally, evaluation research that considers the costs and benefits of such programs in developing countries is timely.” We agree.

Researchers observed three types of preschool programs available in Cambodia: state preschools, community preschools, and home-based programs. To evaluate each program’s effectiveness, 880 5-year-olds from six provinces were observed for developmental gains during the year.

Although the type of preschool students attended had a strong influence on gains, with state preschools as the clear winner, students enrolled in any of the three programs showed improvements over students not enrolled in preschool at all. We’ve known that preschool produces a variety of positive outcomes in the developed world, finding corollary benefits in Cambodia is not surprising, but welcome.

Creative Commons Love:

GOOD APPLE: Bobbie Bigby

Good Apples spotlights people and organizations improving education in the developing world.

1. How long have you been working in education?  What made you start?

One of my earliest memories as a young girl was following my mother to work to watch her teach English as a Second Language to Hmong refugees from Laos. When she taught her students, I saw that she not only infused people with energy and laughs, but also empowered them with the confidence to speak and communicate with an environment they were adjusting to.

In high school, I began to volunteer as an English tutor for Mexican immigrant children living in my Midwestern American hometown. I followed up these experiences by teaching English in southern India at a rural junior college as part of my undergraduate anthropology department’s social outreach program. From 2009 to 2011, I lived, worked and did research in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where teaching comprised one of the primary activities to which I devoted myself. Working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I instructed Cambodia’s Immigration and Refugee Department not only in English, but also about the cultural backgrounds of asylum seekers coming to Cambodia. I worked with a large group of Montagnard refugees who were living in Phnom Penh.  I taught them English, basic computer literacy, and drawing. At another organization, Cambodian Living Arts, I coordinated the organization’s first independent English language program and also developed a curriculum for training arts students to become English-speaking tour guides.

2. Where are you working now? What are you doing to make education in the developing world better?

I currently work at the YWCA Multicultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The YWCA has a long history of working with immigrants and refugees by providing opportunities to connect with social services that aid populations in attaining self-sufficiency– including ESL classes, child care, and job development. I coordinate all language programs for both immigrants and refugees. Our classes geared towards Tulsa’s diverse immigrant population range from beginner classes that place focus on workplace vocabulary all the way to classes aimed specifically at preparing immigrants for obtaining naturalization and passing the US citizenship test.

In order to best serve our refugee clients who are predominantly ethnic Zomi-Chin refugees from Myanmar (Burma), the YWCA also offers ESL instruction at the beginning levels in order to empower this refugee group to find employment and adapt to the local community as quickly as possible. The linguistic and cultural barriers that these refugees first face when arriving to the US can be greatly reduced if refugees have access to language learning opportunities.

3. What does your typical day look like?

Each day, I divide my time between classes that are geared for our immigrant communities and those classes provided to the Zomi-Chin refugees. I interview instructors and volunteers, give them orientations, shadow classes, assist in lesson and syllabus preparation, order class materials, and coordinate all aspects of the classroom experience. For our Zomi-Chin refugee community, setting up class schedules can be somewhat of a logistical challenge since these refugees are beginning to work intensive, 12-hour daily shifts. Thus, we are trying to provide both daytime and evening class options. Due to this refugee community’s immediate need to gain self-sufficiency and learn about their new American communities, our English language programs put heavy emphasis on workplace and vocational vocabulary.

In order to serve our diverse immigrant communities here in Tulsa, we offer a wide array of classes. For beginners, we have Levels One and Two which put emphasis on workplace vocabulary. For those immigrants with high levels of English proficiency and who are seeking to become American citizens, we also offer two special English classes that help provide the English necessary to be able to apply for naturalization and navigate the oral and written American citizenship exams.

ESL Civics is a class that introduces basic vocabulary touching on US history, politics, and popular culture while allowing students to practice their interview skills. The Citizenship class reviews all of the 100 questions that can potentially be asked during the naturalization exam, as well as providing students with dictation and speaking practice.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced working in development?

The biggest challenges that I’ve faced when working with any development scheme—particularly educational projects—is the combination of a lack of funding, lack of time to properly train employees/volunteers, and an overabundance of people needing or wanting to be served. I’ve discovered that development projects that operate as charities and rely solely on funding from grants are ultimately unsustainable and ultimately force many people in need to learn to depend on handouts rather than using opportunities or resources to allow them to become self-sufficient.

5. What’s the biggest challenge the education programs you’ve worked with have faced?

I feel that in any classroom, the fact that students come from such different levels and educational experiences can make teaching exceptionally difficult, especially when resources are limited for trying to bring in other teachers or resources.

6. What’s been your favorite success story?

My greatest sense of fulfillment in working in the classroom came when I was overseeing and instructing Montagnard refugees living in a camp in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. English, computer, and art classes were their only sources of learning and enjoyment during the time when they were living in Cambodia and waiting to be resettled to the US. Despite the fact that the kids were all from completely different levels of English language proficiency, and even literacy levels, every single student appeared dedicated to learning as much as they could from each lesson. I was astounded at the amount of creativity and individualism that students showed both in their written compositions as well as through drawings and other artwork. The Montagnard student group awed me with their ability to draw and reflect on their experiences as refugees without letting it define or confine their future possibilities.

7. What’s your advice to those just beginning a career working in education in the developing world?

The only way that you’ll know if you enjoy doing something is to give it a try! For those of us coming from more developed nations, it is important to be able to see firsthand what the differences are between classrooms in developing countries versus those in our own backyards. Further, it is important to understand how your own expectations, behaviors, and actions must also change to accommodate the radically new contexts that you’ll be working in. One of the most important lessons that I have learned while working in the developing world is to leave my assumptions behind when starting a project and focus instead on listening, watching, and learning from the people and context around me. Only after I’ve done my share of researching, processing, and engaging in dialogue with the local context would I begin to form my own opinions and an action plan for engaging with the project at hand.

8. Write your own question, and answer it!

Q: What was my favorite subject to teach?

A: I deeply enjoyed leading a conversation seminar focused on Culture and Society at a rural Indian junior college in 2007. The class consisted of ongoing discussions and debates that allowed rural South Indian students to explore and articulate their views on societal issues including caste, religion, gender (in)equality, politics, food and popular culture. While students were eager to learn from me about different aspects of US culture, they were incredibly excited to share their own opinions about Indian and Western cultures and why they perceived that there were such great social differences. There were a few bitter arguments between students, but also many, many laughs as students love to use role play to demonstrate situations, ceremonies, and other cultural events.

Smile at a strangerIf  you know any Good Apples working to make education better in the developing world, tell us!


Creative Commons Love: Nina Matthews on