With rapid economic growth and increasing urbanisation, the Asia-Pacific region has been suffering from growing environmental impacts such as reduced air and water quality, contamination of soil, deforestation, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions[1].  In addition to all of these issues, Cambodia is a least-developed country with a very young population[2], meaning that it faces these challenges with constrained resources and the strong likelihood of facing greater challenges in the future due to the impact of a growing industrialising and urbanising population.  The youth are considered an important target group for influencing the implementation of environmental protection and proper use of natural resources in order to establish sustainable livelihoods.  They are seen as potential role models for sustainable environmental practices in their community enabling better living conditions.   Ensuring that the education system provides the knowledge and the tools for the young to build and live within a sustainable Cambodia is therefore a key challenge.

However, despite great progress in education in terms of enrolment, Cambodia still faces significant challenges in its education system.  These challenges include a lack of quality education in schools, resulting in high rates of repetition and dropout, an issue which is frequently found in primary education especially in remote areas.  This is often due to a lack of school accessibility, availability of teachers and learning materials[3].  In addition, most schools in Cambodia have not mainstreamed environmental education into their curriculum.

However it is understood that environmental education plays an important role for raising awareness of the public to environmental issues. The Department of Environmental Education (DEE) is mandated by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) to promote the understanding of environmental issues and to lead eco-friendly activities on environmental protection, natural resource protection, biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation for a green environment and sustainable development in Cambodia.  DEE prioritizes its actions for both the national and sub-national levels. It focuses on stakeholders’ capacity building through formal and non-formal environmental education, enabling knowledge to trickle down to communities and encourage participation in activities such as the conservation and protection of natural resources, biodiversity, and other sustainable development activities.

One of the key programmes being undertaken by the Government of Cambodia is the National Eco-Schools Programme, which has been jointly developed and implemented by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and is seen as key for awareness raising through all forms of education to students and communities.  It started in 2016 with the development of National Guidelines on Eco-School in Cambodia and with its awards being aligned with the ASEAN Eco-Schools Guidelines and ASEAN Eco-Schools Awards.  The Eco-Schools programme assesses activities undertaken by schools to be sustainable using criteria developed by the national guidelines.  Through this programme it is planned that every school will have the opportunity to contribute not only to the sustainability of Cambodia, but also contribute to the implementation of the regional ASEAN Environmental Education Action Plan (AEEAP) in promoting sustainable school concept and practices throughout ASEAN.  It is felt that early childhood education for sustainability, the National Guidelines, and the National Eco-Schools Programme are important components for building awareness, values, knowledge and capacity for sustainable development.

These activities have laid a promising foundation for the development of environmental education within Cambodia.  However, the number of schools involved in these activities remain low, and there is a need to further encourage participation as well as build institutional capacity to fully disseminate the concept broadly.  The Global Search for Sustainable Schools will build on these foundations through selecting 6 schools to receive funds to implement their plans to increase sustainability in their schools.  In parallel, internal capacity for mainstreaming and supporting sustainable schools will be further strengthened through the development of environmental education materials.  An awareness raising campaign will be developed and implemented to encourage participation in the project and in sustainable lifestyles more broadly.

[1] https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/publications/ESCAP_Asia_and_the_Pacific_SDG_Progress_Report_2019.pdf

[2] http://www.kh.undp.org/content/cambodia/en/home/countryinfo.html

[3] https://www.unicef.org/cambodia/education