CORDE: Cambodia

Cambodia’s children have poor access to education

Cambodia is a country that has been devastated by three decades of war and strife. Generations grew up who knew nothing but a life of war, famine, death, disease and depravity. Formal education had almost come to a complete standstill; millions were illiterate and uneducated in reading and writing. In 1998 some statistics estimated the literacy rate in Cambodia at 35%; it had increased to about 70% in 2003. Although the government has tried to establish a national education system, there are still a huge number of children in Cambodia without access to basic education.

It was against the backdrop of an uncertain but hopeful future that a group of seven Cambodians, determined to contribute to the development of their own community, came together to form the Cambodian Organization for Research, Development and Education (CORDE), which was established in 1994 as “a private, non-profit and non-political voluntary development organization, involved in the process of social and economic change and the improvement of the quality of human life and well-being of individuals, families and communities, upholds principles of human honor and dignity by providing viable and sustainable projects that will enhance their capacities and capabilities, thereby increasing the level of participation that results in empowerment that has a lasting impact”.

It was for this purpose that CORDE began its first activities to offer non-formal education to children and young people. The inefficiency of formal education in Cambodia left a lot to be desired. Most children did not attend school. CORDE initiated non-formal education classes covering language teaching and other academic topics. For a large percentage of the students who came from poor families, the classes conducted by CORDE were their only educational opportunity.

Most of CORDE’s first initiatives focused on the province of Battambang, in northwestern Cambodia. Enthusiastic volunteers gathered children from their villages to hold daily tutorials, all lasting at least two hours, with at least 20 students. More classes were started as more teachers emerged to help. Classes were held in all available places, be it the teachers’ apartments, the market square or under the trees. As the number of classes increased and the number of students multiplied, CORDE began a systematic training program for its teachers to ensure that the quality and content of teaching would constantly improve, and to enable observation. CORDE also offers educational programs for juniors and adults.


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