A DREAM IN THE MAKING FOR THE JESUITS IN CAMBODIA
by Quyen Vu SJ
Seven months have passed since I first arrived in Phnom Penh to begin my new Mission in the area of education, having just completed a previous mission in Timor Leste. The education system and challenges in both these countries are very much alike. Both are trying to recover from a history marred by violence and war. Both Cambodia and Timor Leste have lost some of their best human resources due to the violence suffered during the Pol Pot era and during the struggle for Independence for Timor Leste. The effect of war and violence has left each country with a very fragile education system. Each country needs to revamp their education system hastily in order to compete with their neighbours in the 21st Century.
Based on the School Dropout Prevention Pilot Program Trend Analysis for Cambodia, August 2011 , the “dropout rates for rural populations are consistently above the national average. In the rural areas, dropout is 9.1 percent at the primary, 22 percent at the lower secondary, and 15 percent at the upper secondary level.”
According to the analysis, “Banteay Meanchey exhibits the highest dropout for males and Kampong Speu has the highest dropout for females both at 27.7 percent. The high dropout particularly at the lower secondary level reveals problems in the internal efficiency of the educational system. This high wastage rate results in many young people who are unable to progress further with their schooling, leaving them unskilled and reducing their chances for employment.”
The numbers of dropout for secondary levels are frightening as the rates of dropout for grades 8, 9, & 10 are around 20%. These figures do not look very optimistic because there is a risk that those students who did not dropout in grade 8 may do so in grades 9 or 10, with a rate of around 20% again.
The high rate of migration to the major cities or even overseas for the purpose of gaining a quality education as well as employment adds to the lack of young people in rural areas to help their family in the area of agriculture, which is the main source of employment and income generating activity.
The rural areas need well educated young people to help solve modern problems with modern means facing their own community.
For instance, there is a great need for qualified teachers to help improve the literacy rate as well as reduce the significantly high rate of dropout in rural areas. Many of the rural schools lack committed and qualified teachers to improve the level of education of its younger generation. Education is a means of livelihood which Cambodia can utilise to its own advantage in addition to competing with its neighbours.
Martin Luther King Jr’s unforgettable speech, “I have a dream” in 1963 touched deeply the issue of racism which existed in the United States at the time between African and white American and brought about changes to the Constitution of the United States. King’s dream has made such a breakthrough that they now have the first African American president.
The Jesuits of Cambodia also had a dream. The Jesuits’ dream, which started over a decade ago, was to establish an education institution to empower and strengthen the minds and hearts of the future generations of Cambodians. Their dream is to provide young people the right tools to think critically, apply modern approaches to solve modern problems, the gifts needed to strengthen the local culture and build community, the necessary knowledge and skills to contribute to their family and country, the qualities and talents to become future leaders who will lead with compassion and commitment, and a tool for life. This dream is slowly taking shape, however, much planning and hard work is needed to bear greater fruits.
Dreams are to be realised and fulfilled. Dreams help us to invest our time, energy and talents toward them. Without a dream, people don’t know where they are heading or what they are working for. Dreams allow us to see that the impossible can be made possible.
Hence, Xavier Jesuit School, is a dream in the making for the Jesuits in Cambodia. It is located in the most needed area of Cambodia, Svey Sisophon, where the education system is weakest throughout the country. The Jesuits have opted to establish Xavier Jesuit School in the right location and will make the most impact as well as serve the most needed group of youth in Cambodia. Yes, there will be challenges but these challenges are the desires of the Jesuits who “dare to dream of a better future” for the youth of Cambodia.