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Social Justice Project Includes Research on Cambodian Dropout Rate

January 16, 2014 – A Georgetown senior who conducted research in Cambodia found that forced child labor and lack of parental support are key reasons for a sharp increase in the country’s dropout rate between primary and secondary schools.

“As my fellow volunteer, a Cambodian woman with over 15 years experience working in education told me, the parents often tell the children, ‘Why do you need to go study if your family doesn’t even have money to buy something? You need to work,’” said Margo “Annie” Dale (C’14) during her Education and Social Justice presentation Tuesday at Georgetown. “Except in primary school, the children have to work in the field.”

Unique Opportunity

Dale, a government major from Cincinnati, was one of four students who spent part of this past summer researching social justice issues abroad as part of the project.

The program provides an international research fellowship for students to spend three weeks examining innovative educational and community initiatives with a focus on the work of Jesuit institutions.

Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ) co-sponsor the program.

"The Education and Social Justice Project is a unique opportunity for students to combine many parts of their Georgetown experience – research, commitment to social justice, and learning – while abroad," said Thomas Banchoff, vice president for global engagement and director of the Berkley Center. "The research has and will continue to help us to better understand the connections between global challenges of poverty and education." 

Crucial Threat

Dale, who partnered and lived with the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang during her stay, interviewed more than 20 Cambodian teachers, students, principals, volunteers and government workers during her time in the country.

“Child labor is a crucial threat to children of all ages in Cambodia but especially detrimental to children of secondary school age,” she explained. “That’s because this is the age where children are getting big enough and strong enough to work in the field or factories in poor conditions and … the age where they are targeted specifically by traffickers.”

‘Rice Scholarships’

One way the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang is combatting the dropout rate is by providing “rice scholarships,” which provide a family a year’s worth of rice in monthly installments in exchange for allowing a child to remain in school.

“The rice donation is conditional on the child’s consistent attendance and performance in schools,” Dale added. “If the child is not able to comply with these conditions … the family will not continue to receive the monthly supply.”

Fostering Knowledge

The Education and Social Justice Project’s goal is to engage students and foster knowledge about the deep connections between global poverty and education.

Since the program began in 2010, a total of 14 fellowships have been awarded to Georgetown students.

Past participants have spent research summers at institutions such as St. Xavier’s College in India, OCER Campion Jesuit College in Uganda and Catholic University of Uruguay.

For more information on the project, visit the Education and Social Justice Project website.