Cambodia is a country located in the Southern Indochina Peninsula of South-East Asia. Cambodia has a population of 15 million and is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Due to its rich culture, Cambodia has become an attractive tourist destination for many in Asia. Cambodia is also a common destination for voluntourists, as its development is somewhat lacking in comparison to it’s neighbours due to it's complex history in the 1900s concerning the Khmer Regime and the rise of Pol Pot, which dramatically slowed growth and caused the country to fall into disrepair. However fortunately, due to the large influx of tourists, coupled with Cambodia’s natural resources, the country is now experiencing economic growth of up to 7%.
Main industries: tourism, garments, construction, rice milling, fishing, wood and wood products, rubber, cement, gem mining, textiles
The main barriers to growth for Cambodia are it’s lack of access to technology and capital, as seen by the unemployment figure above, unemployment is very low so it isn’t a lack of human capital, but rather a low level of productivity due to a lack of new technology that are preventing growth. In addition, the level of political turmoil that has plagued Cambodia has prevented any growth as it has massively lowered the standard of living, especially for rural Cambodians.
As seen above, whilst Singapore and Cambodia are geographically very close, the level of development and standard of living in both countries is drastically different. In the graph on the left, infant mortality rate is compared to mean years of schooling. We can infer that both countries have seen an improvement in both indicators since the late 1900s, as years of schooling has increased whilst infant deaths per 1000 has fallen significantly. However, infant deaths per 1000 fell much more significantly in Singapore than in Cambodia, owing to the availability of high-end technology and capital in Singapore, that allow large medical advances to be made. There was a slight set-back in Cambodia in 1990, where infant mortality stayed constant for 5 years, before continuing to gradually fall. 1990 is when the Vietnamese troops withdrew from Khmer Cambodia, leading to a fall in external support and Pol Pot's last glimpse of power before he was charged towards the end of the 1990s. Singapore has also recently seen a stagnating infant mortality, likely due to the fact that it is so low, that any deaths at this point are natural and unavoidable. The graph to the right shows how literacy rate and life expectancy have changed in the past few years, and this follows the same trend as the previous indicators as both countries have experienced and improvement in health and education. However in this graph, Cambodia's increase in literacy rate was greater, probably due to the fact that their starting literacy rate was so much lower than Singapore, so it was easier to "mass" increase. Both graphs show promising statistics for Cambodia's development in the future.
Education in Cambodia
The French colonisation of Cambodia initially ignored education, and placed it as a low priority until the late 1950s and 1960s. This meant that in the early to mid 1900s, there was little progress made in the field of education, and only 50-60,000 children were enrolled in primary school. However, once the country gained independence in 1953, the number of children enrolled in school rapidly increased and the country saw a dramatic reform in their education system as elementary and secondary schools were expanded to rural areas, whilst higher education institutions were established. However, the system was essentially wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, as all schools were destroyed and teachers were some of the first to be prosecuted and executed by Pol Pot. This meant that schools had to be built up from scratch again in the 1980s. The education system was completely redone in 1996 to form a formal education structure, which is formulated of 6 years of primary schooling and 6 years of secondary schooling. Education is provided free of charge to all children in both urban and rural parts of the country, whilst private education still exists at all levels, but is mostly available in Phnom Penh, and is run by foreign ethnicities.
Education now comprises roughly 11.1% of total government GDP, and the system seems to be functioning well, with youth literacy rates up around 85% and 88% for girls and boys under the age of 15. 95% of all children are also enrolled in primary school, up from less than 30% in the 1950s. However, whilst there has been lots of development and improvement in education, there are still many issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, schools are so crowded that often, more than 80 kids are squeezed into one class with one teacher, and as a result children only get half day schooling as the schools need a morning and afternoon session to cater for all the students. Despite there being a severe lack of teachers, the teachers are so poorly paid by the government that there is a lack of incentive to work and they often accept extra fees and bribes from students, resulting in some kids being inevitably left out. In addition, secondary school enrollment is only around 50% as many rural teenagers prioritize working in the fields with their parents rather than going to school, thus preventing them from attending any higher education institutions.
In 2004, The Cambodian Microfinance Association was established in the capital city of Phnom Penh. The NGO aims to ensure the prosperity and sustainability of the microfinance sector in Cambodia and plays a vital role in creating local and international networks. They believe that Cambodian citizens should receive financial services through a sustainable system and in a timely fashion, and help microfinance operators to strength communication as well as linking up donors, creditors and investors. There are currently 45 CMA members including 39 licensed microfinance institutions and 6 NGO’s that have contributed to a gross loan portfolio of around 203 billion USD to almost 2 million accounts. The microfinance industry has developed greatly since the 1990s, when it was virtually non-existent, due to the commercialisation of Phnom Penh, as well as work by NGOs and increased funding from the government. Today, microfinance is available, even in the most rural parts of Cambodia and over 80% of clients live in rural areas whilst 81% of clients are women, who have since become more empowered since they’ve been able to borrow/repay their money.