Future of local education through the lens of educationist, Mengly J. Quach

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Mengly J. Quach says education is key for nation building. AIS

As an educationist, how do you rate Cambodia’s education progress over the years and what are the flaws that need urgent attention?

Over the past decades the education landscape has changed drastically, it is receiving more recognition now — people realise the importance of good education as it is the foundation for intellectual growth and to compete in the challenging world.

At the same time, the government has strengthened its policies to support the education sector but we have a long way to go, especially in the rural areas where there is gap in quality education.

Do you agree there is a growing gap between urban and rural education?

Yes, there is a huge gap between the quality of education in urban and rural areas.

Rural provinces still lack the basic infrastructure such as roads, school facilities, shortage of teachers and there are limited resources. Graduate teachers are reluctant to work in the provinces.  

So as a prominent educationist what is your advice, how can these issues be addressed?

We need to send more graduate teachers to the provinces and to do this the government should offer some kinds of incentives to encourage them, example extra salary, housing allowance or promotions after completing their tenure.

In addition, the government should make it “mandatory” for teachers to teach in provinces.

And, the government should offer low interest loans to students who want to pursue studies, such as in agriculture or food processing fields. In rural areas, parents sell their land, houses and motorcycles to educate their children in the cities.  

Most institutions are now concentrated in the cities and rural students are deprived of quality education. What is your opinion?

Most rich people are in urban areas and they can afford to send their children to private institutions and private educational institutions are over saturated in the cities.

Foreign direct investments are not going to the provinces because they lack infrastructures, there is no manufacturing, low productivity and many still rely on agriculture. So, it is hard to set up institutions in rural areas.  

But this is not a healthy trend as it could create social inequality in the long term. Are you concerned of the prevailing situation?

It is a “dangerous trend” if there is no equal distribution of education and wealth, there will be discrepancies.

We will only be producing “blue collar economy” and keep producing manual labour. This is a dangerous path and we can fall into chaos if not addressed. Of the 16 million of population, majority is still in rural areas and only about three million live in the cities.

Those who do not have proper education tend to migrate overseas, to Thailand, Korea and Japan, where they work as manual labourers. The government has done a great job to promote education and jobs. There is peace and economic stability, now the private sector must do more.

What other areas need quick attention, besides rural education?

Like education, healthcare is equally important for the country’s economic growth. The government should do exactly what it did for the education sector in the past.

Many people spend large amount of money for medical treatment abroad. Cambodia lacks professional healthcare workers, like physiotherapist and psychiatrist. The government needs to build confidence in the healthcare system.

But, it is not an easy task as it is a complex area with chronic problems and drastic decisions are needed to overhaul the sector.

Are the existing institutions producing the right talents or skilled graduates for the fast-growing economy?

We lack the human capital and we are not producing the right skills for the right workforce.

There are less research and development, no memorandum of understanding with companies for students’ trainings. We are into “mass production”. 

We lack financial support, resources like research facilities, libraries and the necessary institutions, like they have in Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and many other developing and developed countries.

Despite numerous flaws Cambodia has a successful economy with steady growth. What contributed to the Kingdom’s success story? 

The younger generations are constantly being exposed, they envy their successful neighbours, they aspire for a good life, want better education, want to travel and they desire for higher social standards. All these factors drive the enthusiastic entrepreneurial community, which encourages them to venture into business, create innovative software progams, startups and establish SMEs (small medium enterprises). 

Are you optimistic that Cambodia will continue its bullish run in coming decades?

I am optimistic of the economic and political growth of this country. Cambodia is a “land of fertile” and Cambodia is a “baby tiger” economy.

Cambodia will continue to grow because there is political stability, people are passionate to progress and it is easy to do business here, unlike in some countries where political instability affects development. 

But the growth is only centred in urban localities and this is not prudent as it could lead to wealth inequality. Do you agree?

Yes, this is worrying. If the rural and urban gap grows, and if wealth and development are not equally distributed, it could create chaos. We can’t have too many rich and too many poor people, it will create disharmony in society.

There are no factories, proper irrigations system for farms or jobs in rural areas, so the young migrate to cities, which is then crowded while elders and children are stuck in the provinces.

Rural Cambodia can be quite a dysfunctional community, with high divorce rates and broken families. Eventually, this could lead to social chaos and a dysfunctional society and this is quite worrisome.

As a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, what is your aspiration?

Every stakeholder must take part in nation building and stop finger pointing, so that the country can develop further, people can enjoy peace and security.

Hope the government with its new mandate will focus and improve some of the vital sectors such as healthcare, education, transportation, agriculture and tourism— as they will be the engine of growth and job creators, and help break the poverty cycle.