After visiting the Cambodia Landmine Museum, we continued our day trip heading back towards the Angkor Thom area. The drive back from Banteay Srei took about an hour. During the drive, I had good conversation with our tour guide Vanna. One of the topics was about education in Cambodia. The conversation started as I noticed we drove passing groups of students in uniforms either walking or riding bicycles on the side of the road.
Vanna said that the students could either be on their way to or from the school. I asked if there was a typical school hours there. Vanna said it’s not always the same. In some areas, since there were more students than teachers available, they would split the students into groups that come to school in the morning and those that come to school in the afternoon. I asked if public education was readily available. Vanna said that it would depend on the area or province in the country; some provinces like Siem Reap had better funding because the economy was doing better, so in those places you could find more schools reaching the villages in the area compared to other provinces. There are schools at the primary/elementary level and those at secondary level. There were more primary level schools than secondary level schools — in many cases when students moved up to the secondary level, they would have to go to schools that are located quite far from where they live. Vanna said when he went to high school, he would ride his bicycle every day for about 20 km to get to his school. He also was able to continue on to the university, studying in Phnom Penh.
But he said his experience was not as common as he would hope for. For a lot of people, there was economic barrier to get children educated. Many families couldn’t afford to buy uniforms and school supplies for their kids, or later on, they couldn’t afford to get bicycle for transportation to go to schools that are far away from their home. So as the result, the children ended up not going to school and working starting at early age. Another problem in some more rural areas is the danger of landmines in the fields around villages. I just couldn’t imagine having to fear about stepping on landmines on the way to school… This is where NGOs like the Cambodian Self Help Demining Team and the Ponheary Ly Foundation helped their own society by improving the safety and providing the opportunity for the children to get education.
I compared that story to my own experience growing up and going to school. I experienced going to school in two different countries, Indonesia and the United States. In Indonesia I went to a private school, but we had regulation that required all students whether at public or private schools to wear uniforms, similar to the students in Cambodia. I had to go to school on my own, but since I lived in downtown Jakarta, I took public transportation (buses) to go to or from school. Later on, I also had the opportunity to experience education in the United States as a high school exchange student. There I lived with my host family about 25 miles away from my school, but every day we had school bus coming to pick us up before school, and take us home after school. I felt very fortunate and thankful that I was able to get the education in much easier way than what the Cambodians had to go through.
The photo below was taken as we drove past several students in uniforms riding bicycles on the side of the road.