By Soy Sophea
This year, the number of students enrolled for primary school places increased in Rattanakiri compared to previous study years. However, students who registered for the study year (2006-2007) were not able to attend schools regularly, according to education officials.
They explained that those young students were required to stay at home by their parents to help with the rubber or cashew nut harvest.
Khan Phirun, Director of the Education, Youths and Sports Department in Rattanakiri province, said that his department has made an effort to encourage all Cambodians to pay attention to education, be it formal or otherwise.
For this study year (2007-2008), the number of students enrolled for primary school places throughout Rattanakiri was 24,500, an increase of 1,500 compared to the previous study year (2006-2007) with only 23,000 students. However, an estimated 20 percent of students dropped out of school due to financial considerations.
Pol Vy, Chief of the Education Office in Bar Keo district, told the Cambodia Weekly that this study year, the number of students registered for primary schools in his district was up to 2,547 students, an increase of 35 percent compared to ‘06-‘07.
Vy said that at the end of 2006-2007, at least 12 percent of primary school students were compelled to give up their classes.
“We know the hardship that the students here have met,” he said. “So we have to continue to do our best to motivate them to come to schools. Necessity dictates however, that at harvest time, teachers are sitting around in empty classes.”
“I like to learn, and I want to become a civil servant and commune councilor member,” said a 12-year-old heroine, Miss Jai Puon, interviewed whilst selling vegetables near her cottage in Bar Keo district, Rattanakiri province. A member of the Jarai community, she used to study for five years at Khmer public school in Bar Keo. Naturally, since having to withdraw from education two years ago, her dreams have all but evaporated. She added that most of her fellow villagers have also given up on schooling in favour of farm work.
Speaking sotto voce, the consciousness of lost opportunities fixing her eyes to the floor, Miss Jai Puon said that she really wanted to keep studying just like other people of her age, but she could not do as she wanted. “My brothers and I were forced to quit school because of our lifestyle. We are not a regular people,” she said, as if irregularity were a crime worthy to be punished by the withdrawal of all hope for personal fulfillment. “We need to move from one place to another.”
She said that her 40-year-old mother told her not to study too much because it is the Jarai custom to be all but nomadic, moving from place to place every two years or so.
A 9-year-old lad said that he is now trying to studying grade1 at a community school in Lom Chor commune of O Ya Dav district. Much as this young scholar would like to, he is unable to attend school on a regular basis, for he has a real man’s job to do.
He said that his parents and four brothers and sisters are workers at a rubber plantation. He has part time work to do there, in between classes. “I am the only one in my family who has been given a chance to study and I appreciate it so much. If they could, I know my parents would send us all to school and then to University.”
The responsibility looks very big for such young, bird-like shoulders; but the determination in his eyes suggests that this young Cambodian hero is more than equal to the task.