As the establishment of ASEAN Community is around the corner, each ASEAN member state is busy setting up, reforming and implementing policies, regulations and laws for this planed integration. Not different from other ASEAN members, Cambodia, so far, has shown its willingness and commitments in realization of the ASEAN Economic Community that is, according to AEC Blueprint, aimed to transform ASEAN into a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a region of equitable of economic development and a region that is fully integrated into global economy (ASEAN Secretariat, 2008).

After decades of war, genocidal regime and domestic conflict, Cambodia was able to obtain peace, stability and security back within the country and in the region, which finally led to its joining ASEAN. Due to the fact that Cambodia is one the poorest members in ASEAN, many Cambodian people find the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community integration as a disadvantage rather than advantage since compared to the six older member states—Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines—Cambodia is lagging behind in terms of human resources, economic development, public administration and so forth. Both Cambodian youth and adults have developed a sense of insecurity, fearing that the upcoming ASEAN Economic Integration will have their jobs stolen by skilled workers from other ASEAN countries whose education systems are better and meet the international standard. Therefore, Cambodia needs to overcome challenges preventing it from being a competitive player in ASEAN Community.

One of the biggest issues faced by Cambodia is lack of human capital working to sustain the economy, which is the result of poor education system in the country. Once the AEC is introduced, ASEAN will be the region of one single market and production base that will allow the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labor (ASEAN Secretariat, 2008). It is unlikely that Cambodians would be able to compete with those in the region given that Cambodia has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world (73.9 percent in 2012), and its Human Development Index is one of the lowest in ASEAN (Hing, 2014). According to 2013 UNDP Policy Report, 80 percent of the labor force barely finished lower secondary education, which forces many of them compete for low-end jobs or migrate to neighboring countries to earn a living. Furthermore, since most of the migrant workers from Cambodia are unskilled, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Government investment in education sector is only 2 percent of the GDP, which is not enough to effectively develop human capital in the country (UNDP, 2013). Moreover, the mismatch between education and employment coming from oversupply of IT, business, management and foreign languages graduates and undersupply of workforces from the fields of health science, engineering, marketing, agriculture and rural development (Rana & Adhichivili, NA), also pose a threat to Cambodia’s emerging economy.

In response to the challenge, the Royal Government of Cambodia has set out the National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018 which one of the plans is aimed at capacity building and human resource development. The plan is projected to strengthen and enhance education, science and technology and technical training, which focuses on the following priorities:

– Improve education strategies and policies in order to develop high quality and capable human resources to meet the need of socio-economic development and strengthen Cambodia’s competitiveness in the regional and global job markets
– Enhance human resources in priority sectors such as agriculture, energy, industry, construction and physical infrastructure, ITC, healthcare and environment by applying scientific and technical knowledge in academic curriculum at all educational levels and promoting research and development in higher education.
– Improve the equitable education by building more schools in the remote areas, establishing at least one university in each province and deploying teachers and lectures to those schools and universities.
– Continue the institutional development and capacity building through the development and implementation of the legal frameworks and skills training for education officials.
– Increase quality and effective education services to meet international standard by improving management and teaching capacity and learning environment with enough facilities.
– Strengthen the quality of education and technical and vocational training, develop soft skills for youth, increase employment opportunities, and create appropriate conditions for Cambodian workers to take up the leadership and management roles. […] (Royal Government of Cambodia, 2014)

In addition to the National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018, the Royal Government of Cambodia has also worked closely together with the related ministries, NGOs and international partners to create policies and development plans in order to get Cambodia ready for the regional and global integration in term of human capital development. One among multiple strategic plans is Education Strategic Plans 2014-2018 that is designed and implemented by the Ministry of Education Youth and Sports of Cambodia consisting of three main policies:

– Ensure equitable access for all to education services
– Enhance the quality and relevance of education
– Ensure effective leadership and management of education staff at all levels (Ministry of education, youth, and sports, 2014).

As Cambodia is envisaged to transition from the lower-middle income country to upper-middle income country by 2030, the government has realized that Cambodia’s economy need to rely on not only agriculture, garment exports, construction and tourism but also industrial activities. The Royal Government of Cambodia has set up the Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025 in order to transform Cambodia’s industrial structure from labor-intensive industry to a skill-driven, technology-driven and knowledge-based modern industry by connecting to regional and global value chain and integrating in regional production network in order to strengthen the competitiveness and enhance productivity of domestic industries (Royal Government of Cambodia, 2015). The policy emphasizes on the need to strengthen the education at primary and secondary levels, and focus on the technical and vocational education and training (TVET), underlining the need to increase the productivity of under-educated and unskilled labor force through continuous learning paths (UNDP, 2013).

Photo credit: Iwan Gabovitch

Photo credit: Iwan Gabovitch

With the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community integration, Cambodia is likely ready in terms of legal frameworks, plans and policies with the stress on education development, but in real practice, Cambodia is challenged by inefficient soft and hard infrastructure, lack of human and financial resources in public institutions, low industrial productivities, poor-performing Small Medium Enterprises and insufficient human capital. However, that does not mean that Cambodia should refrain from being integrated into the ASEAN Economic Community. Instead of regarding AEC as the burden, the government and citizens of Cambodia should take it as the motivation to develop the sectors that are lagging behind those in the regions with strong will and commitment so that the gap of development between Cambodia and other ASEAN members will be narrowed down, making Cambodia one of the potential players in this fully integrated community.



Asean Secretariat . (2008). ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint . Indonesia: ASEAN.
Hing, V. (2014). Development Research Forum. Cambodia’s Preparedness for ASEAN Economic Community 2015 and Beyond, NA(07).
Ministry Of Education, Youth and Sports. (2014). Education Strategic Plan 2014-2018. Cambodia:Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.
Rana, S & Adhichivili , A. (NA). Considering Development. Cambodia and ASEAN Economic Community: Opportunity, Challenges, and Implication for Human Resource Development , 3(1), University of Minnesota.
Royal Government ff Cambodia. (2015). Cambodia Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025. Cambodia: Royal Government of Cambodia
Royal government of cambodia. (2014). National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018. Cambodia.
UNDP. (2013). Cambodia Annual Report. Cambodia:UNDP.


By CHEAB Puthika, ASEAN Correspondent from Cambodia