Gender Gap Reversal in Learning and Gender-Responsive Teaching in Cambodia
In the past two decades, Cambodia has been committed to the global agenda of ensuring that all children from all walks of life have access to education and quality learning opportunities. The focus was not only on access to education but also on gender parity and learning quality. Three years after the adoption of the Dakar Framework for Action in 2003, Cambodia adopted the national plan for Education for All (EFA) as a guiding pathway to realise the government’s commitments toward the education goals reiterated in the Dakar Framework. Cambodia has made subsequent development in education, notably making education more accessible and equal, particularly at the primary level. Girls greatly benefited from expanded access to education, and the gender parity index markedly increased as a result. In fact, by 2013, the parity index increased so dramatically that girls’ enrolment started to surpass boys’ enrolment for the first time. In recent years, Cambodian girls not only outnumber boys in terms of enrolment but also learning performance. However, little attention is paid to this gender issue. Additionally, it is especially concerning that the majority of Cambodian students in primary and secondary schools fail to acquire the expected basic knowledge and skills by the end of each cycle.
Amongst good practices in teaching and learning, gender-responsive pedagogy (GRP) is found to have a positive learning impact for both boys and girls. Yet, little is known about the government's commitment to GRP and its practice on the ground in Cambodia. This research aims to analyse the national policies related to gender and teacher professional development, investigate learning disparities, evaluate teaching practices using the GRP lens, and identify interventions to increase gender equity in Cambodia.
An analysis of policies reveals that Cambodia has prioritised human resource development and gender equality in its national development plan, particularly by implementing the Neary Rattanak Strategic Plan led by the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA). The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has also taken steps to promote gender equality and inclusivity in education through the Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Plan. Girls are given priority in scholarships in order to increase girls’ enrolment, and both the Child-Friendly School Policy and the Policy on Inclusive Education aim to ensure inclusive and gender-responsive schooling. The government’s continued focus on girls as a disadvantaged group is evident in these policies. Furthermore, government efforts, like the “One Commune, One Lower Secondary School” initiative that aims to establish at least one lower secondary school in each commune, have also made headway in combating gender inequity. Together, these policies clearly demonstrate the government’s dedication to addressing gender disparities, facilitating equal access to quality education in Cambodia.
Data from SEA-PLM reveals that girls consistently outperform boys in primary school, particularly in writing proficiency. In the PISA-D assessment, girls scored higher than boys in reading and science, although the gender difference does not extend to mathematics. Cultural expectations, differences in behaviour and dedication to learning, use of digital devices, and socioeconomic factors are believed to be factors contributing to the observed gender gap reversal, where boys underperform compared to girls. Furthermore, boys are often expected to provide financial support for their families; thus, their family's socioeconomic status can play a role in their educational achievement.
Efforts are being made to integrate GRP into teaching practices to ensure favourable learning experience and achievement for both boys and girls. Although endeavours are made to ensure equal opportunities and participation for both genders, variations exist among teachers regarding classroom and seating arrangements and gender-based violence, among other practices.
Several interventions have been implemented to promote gender equity and the use of GRP in Cambodia. The TIGER project focused on enhancing teachers’ knowledge and skills through training and integrating GRP practices in schools resulting in the transformation of educational institutions. Other interventions include the Life Skills Learning for Adolescent Girls (LSLAG) project, which aimed to empower girls with life skills for their transition to adulthood, and the Life Skills for Gender Equality project, which expanded the prior project’s focus to boys to support their academic success and challenge harmful gender norms. These interventions involve life skills lessons and parent/community engagement focusing on promoting gender equity and creating gender-responsive learning environments in schools.
Finally, this study offers several policy implications to promote inclusive and quality education in Cambodia. Efforts should be made to address the emerging gender gap reversal by designing policies and interventions that specifically target the challenges faced by boys that hinder their learning, including excessive engagement with technology, prioritising social activities over their studies, and ameliorating the impact of family socioeconomic factors. Ensuring equal opportunities and support for both boys and girls should be a central goal. Future gender policies need to reflect the need for increased support for boys accurately. Additionally, teacher professional development programs need to be strengthened with a particular emphasis on GRP. Comprehensive and systematic training should be provided to teachers, including gender-sensitive teaching practices, effective classroom management, and creating inclusive learning environments. Ongoing support and monitoring should be prioritised to ensure the successful implementation of these training programs. Furthermore, the implementation of GRP can be enhanced by including it in the pre-service training programs. Doing so would encourage teachers to incorporate GRP concepts into their teaching practices, establish consistent guidelines, and promote effective implementation across schools and teachers.