What Cambodian Students Need

Parachutes Before and During a Global Pandemic

authored by
Claudia Helga Maria Piroschka Schupp
supervised by
Martin Gassebner

Education remains one of the main tools to fight poverty, rendering it a pivotal part of policy in developing countries. Nonetheless, education in developing countries is often underfinanced, resulting in a lack of schooling facilities and a low quality of the education provided. Cambodia, the country of interest in this dissertation, lags behind its neighbors due to the echo from the dictatorial rule of the Khmer Rouge and their offensive against the education sector in the 1970s. The education sector in Cambodia feels the consequences even today. Particularly rural students face limited access to career guidance, which prevents them from engaging with their interests. To explore this further, this dissertation is based on an educational Randomized Control Trial (RCT) which combines a personality test with personalized career paths in an electronic application and provides detailed information about high school and vocational training. The focus of the analysis is set on the application and the overall impact of the RCT to see whether students look differently at career information once it is made self-relevant and whether the intervention can encourage students to transition to high school. Survey data is complemented with rich administrative data. The implementation of the RCT took place at the beginning of 2020 and was interrupted by the nation-wide school closure due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In an effort to speak to students directly after they were told to stay home, our team managed to reach 67% of our initial sample of 3,261 students over the phone. We asked about their studying routine, how they kept up with the curriculum and used their time apart from studying, how they perceived the crisis, and collected background information on their family’s situation. Again, we put the survey answers in the context of administrative data which was collected before and after school closure. The analysis of the application in chapter 2 reveals that most of the students maneuver the application with ease and indeed look at different career paths once these paths are linked to students’ own interest and are personalized. The low-cost application could easily be replicated and used to fill in the gap in the Cambodian curriculum with respect to career guidance. When looking at the impact of the entire intervention in chapter 3, however, we see on average no effects. A heterogeneous analysis highlights unintended effects for low-performing students. While high-performing students seem to be unaffected by the intervention, low-performing students report less often to have studied and are at higher risk to be working during school closures. Finally, chapter 4 analyzes the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on students. The majority of students communicate that they keep studying and also return to school to write their final exam at the end of 2020. Nevertheless, students experience differential impacts stemming from income losses from either the father or the mother. Paternal income losses decrease the likelihood of studying and of participation in the final exam but maternal income losses increase the likelihood. We discuss different mechanisms and find supportive evidence for a scenario wherein the mother spends the newly acquired free time to encourage her child(ren) to learn for school.

Institute of Macroeconomics
Doctoral thesis
No. of pages
Publication date
Publication status
Electronic version(s)
https://doi.org/10.15488/11586 (Access: Open)