Rapid Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Girls’ Education in Northern Provinces of Cambodia

August 18, 2020

Plan International Cambodia and CARE International in Cambodia jointly conducted a rapid assessment in June and July 2020, using both qualitative and quantitative methods based on the recent CARE RGA for COVID-19, and the Plan Survey of the Impact of COVID-19 and other COVID-19 assessment related reports. The characteristics of respondents aged from 10 – 24 years (in-school and out-of-school children), in three north eastern provinces, Ratanak Kiri, Mondul Kiri and Stung Treng. Among 383 adolescents and young people, there were 262 (68%) female students and 121 (32%) male students, the majority of whom were 15-17 years olds (163; 43%), followed by the 18-20 age group (133; 35%). There was an equal distribution of students of ethnic minority and Khmer youth (190; 49.60% and 193; 50.40%, respectively). Only 2 per cent of the students reported having disabilities.
Key Findings:

  • There was a significant transition to distance and digital learning in short period of time. The school system and teachers are facing new challenges, including a large and new workload, change and uncertainty, while also coping with their own personal situations. There is underlying low digital literacy of some teachers (especially older ones). There are reports that a lack of full pay is hampering teachers’ motivation.
  • The Provincial Offices of Education (POE), School Directors (SD) and teachers followed MoEYS’ guidance, formed E-learning groups, shared different sources of E-learning, and developed teaching and learning materials for social media/E-learning groups. However, there are many barriers to the implementation such as limited teachers’ pedagogical and ICT capacity and commitment, increased teachers’ workload, and lack of resources (including government budget) to travel to communities to follow up and support students at their home.
  • High availability of students having smart phone access (79%) (the survey being implemented by phone may have biased this value higher than what it might be more broadly) but only half of students have internet access through their smartphones (49%). 12% have no access to any form of digital communication. Televisions were reported to be accessible by 24% of students with significantly less access for those from families with ID-Poor cards. There were intermediate levels of self-assessed familiarity and confidence to use digital devices. The main differences among groups were significantly lower self-assessed digital familiarity and confidence by ethnic minority adolescents (compared to Khmer) as well as those from Stung Treng (followed by Ratanak Kiri, with Mondul Kiri most often being most confident).
  • There was limited awareness of and access to the e-learning platform due to a lack of money to pay for internet data, and the awareness and commitment of students and family members remains low. The focus of the Ministry on digital and material support for Grades 9 and 12 to support their exam preparation may have also reduced motivation or interest among the other students.
  • Among the 85% of students who reported having challenges with their distance education options during COVID-19, the two main challenges they have experienced so far were “No / Slow Internet Access” (40%) and “No Budget for Phone Cards” (19%).
  • Students have limited awareness of MoEYS’ digital educational platforms including Facebook page (58%), YouTube (41%), TVK (27%), DTV (14%), and E-learning center (12%) whereas, local radio learning program awareness was the lowest (5%). Despite the limited awareness, there was fairly high reported access to the MoEYS Facebook page (30% reported accessing once a week or more –6 and 65% reported at least once) and about half reported accessing MoEYS’ YouTube at least once; however, there was quite low engagement with the rest of the digital modalities.
  • A good number of students (64%) could access any of the platforms between 1-10 hour(s) per week, about 23% between 11-20 hours and 14% never had access at all. Daily learning from different E-learning platform is about 10% of the respondents (FB: (14%), YouTube (9%), E-learning center (3%), KTV (10%), DTV (4%) and radio (2%); and similar percentage just learned once a week. Those who accessed these platforms expressed high satisfaction with them. The mean number of hours that students reported accessing the various platforms per week was about 7. But there were significant differences based on gender-ethnicity-province combinations. In Ratanak Kiri, ethnic minority girls had much lower number of hours per week, but the difference by gender for ethnic minority students was not strong in the other two provinces. Khmer girls had considerably fewer number of hours per week in Stung Treng, but they were more equal in the other two provinces.
  • Noting the limitation of not asking respondents COVID-19 preventive practices, there was high awareness (85%) of students hearing about educational messages on “Wash your hands correctly to prevent COVID-19” (94%), “How to protect yourself and others from getting infected” (84%) and “When and how to wear a mask” (79%). Other messages have not got through as well such as ‘education does not stop, so let’s keep learning’ (24%) and stay safe online and offline (9%), suggesting that the COVID-19 messaging was probably coming from many different sources with the other non COVID-19 specific messages were only coming from limited sources. While awareness of some messages was high, qualitative findings suggested people fear COVID-19 transmission due to low practice of protective behaviours.
  • Loss of and disruption to economic opportunities and decrease in family incomes due to difficulties in finding (decent) paying jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government’s local travel restrictions has raised economic pressures on many families.
  • About 70% of students received support during online and/or distance learning from home. Female family members such as mothers (19%) and sisters (12%) reported to have provided more support compared to male family members such as fathers (17%) and brothers (9%). The type and extent of home-based support varies (e.g. material support or encouragement support) and it is perceived to be related largely to parents’ education levels that is influencing their confidence to be able to provide support.
  • Online and/or distance education may be contributing to furthering the divide between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” – those who can afford associated cost of online and/or distance education continue to learn despite the pandemic and those who cannot afford the cost, turned to engage more in providing for the families, which ultimately limits their educational progress.
  • COVID-19 has magnified existing gender norms and roles particularly for women and girls in having to manage more tasks in the household. Boys and girls felt that boys, too, worked at home (and many felt they worked harder) though they typically were supporting their families in farm work in this largely rural agricultural sample. Both women, men, boys and girls have perceived increase in their workload. Women and girls are still responsible for household chores. Girls were more likely to be requested to do housework, while boys were asked to help at the farm and paddy field with their parents.
  • Psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 were widely reported in the assessment. Both adults and adolescents reported experiencing stress due to the disruption; financial losses and fear of unemployment; additional work requirements; fear of not completing education; inability to socialize. Girls in the assessment survey reported to be more worried about household chores and school closure while boys were more stressed about COVID-19 transmission and not being able to go out. A high proportion of the adolescents surveyed reported not knowing any ways to reduce stress (58%).
  • There was no difference in the level of women’s participation and decision making before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Almost two thirds of the respondents (65%) reported that most of the sexual and reproductive health services provided were the same as before the pandemic. While some reported the services having been reduced, people are also seeking health care less frequently due to fears of contracting COVID-19. SRHR information is still being disseminated and sanitary pads availability is still reported to be mostly consistent.
  • Perceived increase of early marriage: There were some conflicting findings related to early marriage. Some interview respondents reported marriage was less frequent due to limitations on social gatherings. While some teachers believed that there is a higher chance of increased early marriages because youth are able to spend more time together outside of school. With fewer adolescents in schools and the prospect for a delayed return to in-person schooling as well as loosening of lockdown restrictions, the conditions are favorable for an increase in early marriages.
  • Increased GBV: The perception that COVID-19 has produced a heightened risk of GBV and other forms of exploitation (human trafficking; sexual exploitation; abuse) is well established globally and is a heightened risk in Cambodia at present. Findings from this assessment did not suggest that the heightened risk has unfolded (more respondents reported the situation was better than worse), though there were still reports of incidents which requires steadfast strategies.
  • Safety at the community is a significant issue, with a quarter of respondents feeling insecure. This included being attacked by gangsters and being a victim of robbery. This is the same for boys and girls. Online safety is also a growing concern as young people are spending more time on digital devices. Despite the Ministry’s efforts to disseminate risks to cyber security nation wide, just 20% of adolescents in this assessment had heard any messages. Other safety concerns raised included fear of contracting COVID-19 due to the low level of uptake of the recommended prevention measures.
  • COVID-19 is surfacing stigmatization of certain groups perceived to have higher risks of having COVID-19, such as migrant workers, urban populations, Muslims (Chams), Indians, and foreigners in general.

Full report, including detailed methodology and recommendation can be accessed here.

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