Last year, the Cambodian Ministry of Education released a report indicating that over 55 percent of the country’s 6,555 primary schools had libraries. Normally, this would be great news, but as it turned out, things weren’t exactly as they seemed. With no official standards to use as a guide, many of the schools reported having a library even if they had just a few books or none at all.
“Some called it a library with only a few books, others with only one chair and a single shelf for schools with many classrooms,” says Kall Kann, Room to Read’s Country Director in Cambodia. “In grades one through three," he continues, “they rely on two textbooks to study, and they have no additional reading material.”
Seeing a need to change this in their country, Room to Read Cambodia teamed up with local partner NGOs SIPAR and SVA, initiating a year-long effort to enact nationwide standards for school libraries including a set ratio of books to children, a description of the library environment, and minimum qualifications and pay for the librarians who run them.
“Without a minimum standard, schools couldn’t request money from the central government to allow them to buy books,” explains Kall, “they do not know how many books should be in the library, they don’t have librarians, and they don’t have an understanding of what qualifications are required for a librarian.”
Hammering out the details of the new library standards and getting the necessary approvals took just under a year, and included discussions with both national and provincial education representatives. It all paid off! On May 3, 2011, the Ministry of Education finally adopted the new standards as the official benchmark for all primary schools nationwide.
“I see that when children read a lot, you increase their knowledge, increase their understanding and their attitude becomes more mature—they are much more understanding of the situation around them and trends across the globe,” said the Minister of Education, who hopes that the new standards will help his department to better mobilize its resources.
Kall also has high hopes for the new policy, and its potential effect on the Cambodian education system as a whole. “We need to make sure our children learn to explore, learn to do research, learn to summarize,” he says, things which “can be achieved by reading a lot.”
Read more about our work in Cambodia.