It is crucial to provoke some reflections on the initial stage of non-formal and informal education in Cambodia. Community Learning Centers (CLCs) are the means of delivering non-formal and informal education. The concept of non-formal education emerged in Cambodia in 1990 when the community learning center first sprouted up to offer ongoing programs aimed at promoting lifelong learning.
Nationwide community learning centers were primarily run by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MOYES) under government budgets in 2003. According to UNESCO (2013), the Community learning center is a center that reports to an institution at the community level. foster the development of human resources by offering all members of the community equal opportunities for lifelong learning.
Community Learning Centers are considered non-formal and informal education schools based on the Department of Non-Formal Education (DNFE) of MOEYS. In addition, some specific programs such as functional literacy, post-literacy, equivalency programs, reintegration programs, income generation, life skills and other programs are underway in CLCs.
For example, 356 CLCs in 2008 had 7,819 literacy classes with 165,001 students, in which there were approximately 1,279 non-formal primary education equivalence classes with 25,608 students. There was a decrease in the number of classes in the reintegration program from 1,059 in 2014 to 636 in 2018, along with the decrease in the number of students from 17,938 to 11,404, and from 2,991 vocational training classes, with 41,246 learners.
While there is remarkable improvement in community learning centers through the concerted efforts of the Cambodian government in collaboration with development partners, such as ILO, DVV and NFUAJ, the challenges facing CLCs have been notified.
Notably, some of the CLCs are not functioning well and have closed their doors, which could push the CLCs to the brink of danger. The challenges in CLCs are precipitating due to lack of understanding of the meaning of CLCs, inadequate physical infrastructure and lack of enabling environment in CLCs, community participation issues, lack of human resources and low allocation budgetary.
In addition, manuals and blueprints for operating CLCs are essential for enhancing the quality of educational program delivery to meet community demands and resolve community issues. There are not enough qualified teachers to teach and provide enough skills and knowledge to learners to meet the demands of the job market. These obvious issues are significant challenges, which have great impacts on the future sustainability of CLCs.
To meet these challenges, there is a need to further improve the management and leadership capacity of CLC committee members to deliver attractive and responsive programs and activities to people in the community. Rethinking educational programs from pedagogy to andragogy is essential for teaching and facilitating adult learners. Remarkably, learner participation should be enhanced by teachers or facilitators by giving learners equal opportunities to participate in diagnosing their needs and planning programs. In doing so, teachers can teach according to their needs and strengthen their sense of belonging and commitment. In addition, to tackle the issue of career paths, CLCs should set up public-private partnerships (PPP) to diversify employment opportunities for learners and help them generate more income.
Likewise, the government can connect one CLC to another to exchange knowledge and skills as well as to expand the scope of training programs and recruit qualified trainers and facilitators, which is mandatory to implement programs and activities. quality activities for learners. Hence, learners will acquire various skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the job market. Involving community members in the monitoring and evaluation process can help CLCs receive constructive feedback for their future improvement and learn from their drawbacks. Therefore, there is a requisition of three main actors, such as government, development partners and community, to make their concerted efforts and collaboration to support community learning centers.
There is no denying that the government is working with other relevant stakeholders to improve and develop community learning centers so that they become lifelong learning centers in the future. The development of human resources and the strengthening of management capacities must be pursued and carried out to make the CLCs function well. Increasing the budget and its timely disbursement are essential to strengthen and expand training programs and activities in CLCs. In addition, it is also crucial to facilitate access to microcredit for learners, especially those who have graduated from income-generating programs to put their knowledge and skills into practice as well as to invest in their business. Once community centers are functioning well, community members can access equitable quality education and fill formal education gaps. There is no doubt that a desirable dream of Cambodia’s goal of becoming an upper middle income country by 2030 and a high income country by 2050 can be realized through strong mechanisms for establishment and guidelines for implementing community learning centers in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Neak Piseth is the founder of “The Way of Life Cambodia”. He is pursuing a master’s degree in non-formal education at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He worked as an assistant to the director at the Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Center and professor of English at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. In particular, he is the author of the book “The Authentic Chapters of Life” and a reviewer at the Cambodian Education Forum.