Raising Reading Scores in Cambodia

September 8, 2016


In Cambodia, national assessments have led to a nationwide improvement of literacy rates.

Drawing upon World Bank financing and expertise since 2005, Cambodia has conducted national assessments in reading. Based on test results, Cambodia made the teaching of reading a national priority, leading to the training of 24,577 teachers, the publication of two Khmer-language text books, and almost all Grade Eights students nationwide capable of reading and comprehending text.


Literacy, the ability to read and write, allows people to access information, increase their productivity, and achieve their full potential.  Research has shown that early literacy is a threshold which countries must pass to grow economically.

Emerging from years of political turmoil, Cambodia needed to improve language acquisition, especially in the early school grades. Up until 2005, there was little baseline data on reading proficiency to guide government policy on how to improve literacy. The national language, Khmer, is also one of the most complex languages in the world, making it challenging to teach. 


With World Bank support, Cambodia conducted its first national assessment of the Khmer language for students in 2006 and again in 2009. Results showed that reading levels were very poor. This led to a rethink on how Cambodia taught reading. The method changed from “whole word” recognition” to a vowel and consonant combination approach. From 2010-2012, Cambodia focused on reading skills in pilot schools. Thousands of students and their teachers received their own copy of Khmer language books. This was unique at a time where most children had to share a book. Students were encouraged to read at home and their progress was measured against clear targets. Thousands of teachers and education officers were also trained in teaching. 


The IDA Cambodia Education Sector Support Project and the World Bank-supervised Global Partnership for Education’s Education Sector Scale Up Action Program and Second Education Sector Support Projects have helped to support improvements in several key outcomes:

  • Capacity-building of a team in the Ministry of Education, Youth, & Sport, leading to Cambodia’s first national assessment of the Khmer Language and Mathematics for grade three students in 2006;
  • Results of a World Bank-supported baseline test for 2,400 students in 40 pilot schools in 2010 led to the Ministry of Education, Youth, & Sport announcing that the teaching of reading would be a national priority;
  • As part of the pilot, 24,577 teachers and 3,097 provincial and district education officers were trained in teaching reading in 2012;
  • The World Bank’s work in helping to establish national assessments through the Cambodia Education Sector Support Project (CESSP 2005-2011) and constant support for the national assessment team in the ensuing years, contributed to the establishment of a dedicated National Assessment office in the newly established Department of Education Quality Assurance; and
  • An analysis of the Grade 8 National Assessment (2014) showed that almost all students in this level are capable of reading text, and answering questions about that text.

Bank Group Contribution

In 2005, the International Development Association (IDA), which is the part of the World Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries, provided $28 million in financing to build Cambodia’s national assessment capacity. This led to Cambodia conducting the first national assessment of Khmer Language and Mathematics for Grade Three students in 2006 and in 2009.


Cambodia received a $95.9 million trust fund from Global Partnership for Education (2007-2016). The fund was supervised by World Bank. The partnership contributed to the Early Grade Reading Assessments and Early Grade Reading Interventions in Cambodia. It supported the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports mainstream the assessments into the national assessment system. 

Moving Forward 

Despite the recent robust growth in the economy and an increase in both Cambodia’s GDP and the total government recurrent budget to education, the education sector still lacks basic resources and highly qualified teachers. Moving forward, the World Bank intends to support:

  • The full implementation of the results based monitoring and evaluation plan which will encourage schools, teachers, students, parents and communities to be accountable for their results;
  • Introduction of Programme for International Student Assessment for Development. This is where survey instruments relevant for the contexts found in middle- and low-income countries are used to measure the aptitude of 15-year-old students in math, reading, and writing; and the
  • Implementation of a five-year United States Agency for International Development funded project to support early grade reading.


" I like reading a lot because it helps me to know more. (The program) helped me to love reading books, magazine and newspapers. I want to be a lawyer after graduation and I know that a lawyer needs to read a lot. "

Nov Rathana

11-year-old student who took part in the pilot reading program in 2010, when he was in Grade One.

" I’ve seen how the text book has helped students read and comprehend quicker. There are a few steps they have to learn before comprehensive reading. First, they must learn spelling, vocabulary, and synonyms. Being able to read (without difficulty) attracts students to books. I believe that reading is very important for them. Reading and comprehending makes for better students who have a better chance at excelling in all subjects. "

Khun Chanrong

36-year-old teacher who received training on how to teach the new Khmer-language book.
Raising Reading Scores in Cambodia