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Research 08/02/2024

Examining improvements to girls’ education in Cambodia through a gender-responsive lens

The Cambodian government has been successful in raising girls’ enrolment and academic achievement in recent years, with girls’ enrolment reaching 100% in 2021 and girls outperforming boys in reading, writing and mathematics at Grade 5 level. While this is hugely encouraging for girls’ education in the country, these statistics alone do not help us to understand the extent to which gender imbalances are being addressed and improved within the classroom.

Therefore, together with our research partner, the Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), EDT has undertaken research to explore this issue. Specifically, we wished to interrogate the question of whether schools and classrooms in Cambodia are simply gender-sensitive and aware of gender discrimination, or whether they are moving to actively root out and address gender imbalances – demonstrating aspects of gender-responsiveness.

Gender-responsive pedagogy, pioneered by the Forum for African Women Educators (FAWE), involves a whole-school approach to gender, which includes taking action to reduce gender inequalities, address internalised gender bias, ensure meaningful participation of all children, and considering the specific needs of all learners. Our initial analysis – based on a desk review and interviews with officials from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), development partners, sub-national education officials, school principals and teachers, and presented in this working paper – indicates aspects of this approach are present in the Cambodian education system, but that gender responsiveness are not consistently understood or implemented by teachers and school leaders across the country.

Indeed, Cambodian national policy frameworks and plans promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming, and the UNICEF Framework for Child Friendly Schools is also widely embedded. Meanwhile, national school monitoring procedures could be classified as gender-responsive, but while nationally offered inset training and national pedagogy or lesson plans were often learner-centred, they did not always acknowledge or address gender inequalities.

At classroom level, informants shared that although they were often unfamiliar with the term ‘gender-responsive pedagogy’, some aspects of the approach did appear to be in effect. For instance, girls and boys often shared chores and images on the walls and in learning materials had been updated to represent both sexes more equally. However, it was also clear that gender-based biases and instances of abuse remain: informants we spoke to shared that they had witnessed teachers blaming students for mistakes on the basis of gender, as well as reports of verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse within schools.

This mixed picture demonstrates that although progress has been made in moving towards gender-responsive approaches, more work remains to be done to move beyond practices that simply ensure parity but instead address underlying biases and safeguarding issues. School leaders, middle-tier officials, and ministry personnel also need to support school- and classroom-level level efforts to understand and implement gender-responsive pedagogy. This in turn highlights a clear need for improved teacher training and standardised, clearly defined policy and programming language.

In the coming months, EDT will be publishing further reports from this programme of research, including a literature review which considers what we know about the impact of gender-responsive pedagogy, and a joint research project with CDRI which will look in more detail at the gendered experience of teaching and learning in Cambodia.


To find out more, please contact our Research and Consultancy team


Examining improvements to girls’ education in Cambodia through a gender-responsive lens

Since 2002, the Cambodian government has taken serious steps to address pervasive gender imbalances and improve the status and treatment of women and girls, especially in education. A series of policies that call for child-friendly, gender-aware schooling have been enacted in the past two decades, accompanied by scholarship programmes, expansion in lower secondary school construction, and gender-focused teacher and school leader training programmes.

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