Giving Cambodia’s Marginalized Learners a Second Chance

Ms. Yin Phalla, literacy teacher at Dewhirst Garment factory in Phnom Penh showing learner how to read.

Cambodia has made huge gains in education in the past five years: net enrolment rates at primary education level have reached 98%. Primary schools are available in nearly every geographic location. There are more students enrolling in school at the right age than ever before.[1] Despite these successes, key educational challenges inhibit Cambodia’s ability to achieve its goal of becoming an upper middle income country by 2030.

High dropout rates, particularly at the lower secondary education level, remain a persistent issue.  Quality of learning is also a concern. Findings from Cambodia’s PISA report show Cambodian students performing significantly lower than the internationally agreed standards of basic literacy. The country’s low return on education has long-term effects on the ability of its growing labor force to keep up with the country’s fast-paced growth.[2]

Based on a survey conducted by the National Employment Agency in Cambodia in 2017, nearly one-third of establishments interviewed faced a skill gap.[3]  Employers in the industry and services sector are increasingly demanding higher-order skills relating to communication, customer service, digital literacy and the ability to adapt to new equipment and procedures.[4] Unskilled workers with low levels of educational attainment struggle to find meaningful work or transition to better-paying jobs.

To support the ability of these workers to pursue better long-term opportunities, particularly female migrant workers in the garment industry, UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) launched the Factory Literacy Programme (FLP) in 2016. Through partner factories, FLP provides a customized literacy and mathematic learning package for garment workers that were unable to complete their primary education.

In addition to helping learners gain functional literacy and mathematic skills, FLP equips them with key skills in financial and legal literacy, reproductive health, nutrition, worker rights, communications and productivity, through a holistic curriculum customized specifically around the needs of migrant female workers. Upon completion of the four-month programme, learners receive a Grade 4 equivalency certificate that is attested by MoEYS, which gives them the option to pursue further education at formal or non-formal education institutes.


[1] Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (2019). Education Strategic Plan. Kingdom of Cambodia.

[2] World Bank (2018). Cambodia Economic Update: Recent Economic Developments and Outlook.

[3] National Employment Agency (2018). Skills Shortages and Skills Gaps in the Cambodian Labour Market: Evidence from Employer Survey 2017.

[4] World Bank (2018). Cambodia Economic Update: Recent Economic Developments and Outlook.

FLP Learner at Sabrina Factory

FLP graduates after acquiring these life-changing skills are more confident, communicative and productive. “The programme helps increase the capacity of workers,” says Noun Veasna, manager of partner factory, Sabrina based in Kampong Speu, “Some workers have technical knowledge but lack general knowledge. This hinders their development and ability to do other work in the future and get promoted.”

Ms. Soeurng Channy, literacy teacher at Sabrina Factory, trained by the FLP adds, “I have observed a lot of behaviour change among workers involved in the program. In the past, they were afraid and shy. But after joining the program, they are brave, confident, ask questions and have good communication with colleagues.”

Since its inception, Factory Literacy Programme has served over 2000 workers across 12 provinces through 25 partner factories, with an impressive 72 completion rates.

But gaining functional literacy and mathematical skills is only the first step.

Studies have shown that gaps in Cambodia’s formal education system lead to frequent student dropout, leaving Cambodia’s youth underprepared to participate effectively and productively in life and in the work place.[1]

To support individuals that completed primary education but for financial or other reasons had to drop out of lower secondary education, UNESCO launched the Basic Education Equivalency Programme (BEEP) in partnership with the MoEYS and Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) with the financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in 2018. While the Factory Literacy Programme supports learners achieve primary education equivalency, BEEP enables learners, aged 14 and older, to achieve Grade 9 equivalency through a flexible, blended modality.

Upon completion of coursework on the BEEP learning platform, learners can continue their study at technical high schools or Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutes to gain new skills and the opportunity to pursue a better career.


[1] Hamilton, Ilona and Sunjum Jhaj (2020). Why are boys leaving lower secondary school early in Cambodia? UNICEF.

BEEP learners are taking their online courses, using the tablets and internet access at the learning center hosted by Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF).

Sreykhuoch, 22, born and raised in a small village in Siem Reap province had to drop out of school in ninth grade in order to support her family. But similar to many other rural, unskilled young workers, she struggled to find meaningful work. While she finally landed a job as a chef assistant at a restaurant, Sreykhuoch aspired to grow within the hospitality industry. So when she learned about the opportunity to continue her studies while still being able to work full-time, she was thrilled. Sreykhuoch successfully completed BEEP and enrolled at the National Polytechnic Institute of Angkor to prepare herself for a dynamic career in the hospitality industry. Reflecting upon her coursework at BEEP, she says, “BEEP subjects such as English, Math, Computer, Tourism and Khmer are very important for me. I can now communicate with my Chinese boss in English. I can also greet and interact with customers better”.

Since the launch of the programme, BEEP has reached over 600 learners across 12 provinces, with plans to expand nationally. The BEEP platform has also proved to be a valuable asset for MoEYS during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was opened to all lower secondary learners, allowing them to continue their education despite school closures.

For Cambodia to achieve its ambitious goal of being an upper middle- income country by 2030, it needs a strong and dynamic labor force that is well-prepared for a rapidly changing economy. By providing programming customized to the needs of young and adult learners, UNESCO ensures that ambitious youth like Sreykhuoch do not get left behind.