Educational and Social Development of Garment Factory Workers, Cambodia

  • Date published:
    15 October 2018

Programme Key Information

Programme Title: Educational and Social Development of Garment Factory Workers
Implementing Organization: Sipar
Language of Instruction: Khmer
Funding: French Development Agency (AFD), Weave Our Future Foundation and UNESCO
Programme Partners: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), Cambodian Women for
Peace and Development (CWPD) and UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh
Annual Programme Costs: €200,000(additional financial contribution from UNESCO CapEd and UNESCO Malala Fund)
Date of Inception: July 2015

Country Context and Background

Since 1993, the Cambodian economy has been undergoing reforms designed to effect a transition from socialism to market capitalism. These reforms have been aimed at improving the country’s previously isolated position by opening borders to international trade (Tang, 2016). One major strategy has been to promote direct foreign investment in the country’s manufacturing sector, specifically the garment and footwear industry (Tang, 2016). This investment, along with the competitive advantage provided by Cambodia’s low skilled and low paid labour force, has resulted in the rapid industrialization of the garment and footwear industry which has become a primary contributor to the country’s economy over the past two decades. For example, the International Labour Organization reported that garment and footwear exports accounted for 80 per cent of the country’s total, and that the industry employed an estimated 610,000 registered employees (2016).

However, the competitive nature of the industry, coupled with its high geographical mobility and its focus on quantity rather than quality, can result in the fostering of short-term growth without contribution to the long-term development of a country. For example, 87 per cent of industry employees are women who have migrated to urban areas from rural areas or poor outlying suburbs, and are likely to have interrupted their primary school education to support their families. Now living in densely populated towns and cities, they face a huge challenge to their personal and professional development due to their lack of education, lack of access to helpful information, and their low literacy levels. It is within this context that the Educational and Social Development of Garment Factory Workers programme has sought to cooperate with garment factories to improve the transfer of knowledge and skills to factory workers.

Programme Overview

The Educational and Social Development of Garment Factory Workers programme is a multi-stakeholder programme with its roots in a pilot project launched by Sipar, a non-governmental organization that promotes literacy, from 2013 to 2014. The pilot project initially sought to improve the literacy levels of garment factory workers in Cambodia through the construction of libraries in three garment factories. An evaluation of the pilot project, however, revealed that simply setting up libraries was not enough to tackle the widespread illiteracy prevalent among factory workers in the country. Therefore, the programme model was re-conceptualized at the beginning of 2015 to reach beyond this approach. The amended programme included three main components during its first phase (from July 2015 to June 2018) which were based around Library Resource Centres (LRCs): literacy classes, social awareness sessions, and a borrowing service. This case study will focus primarily on the literacy class component of the programme.

The Sipar literacy class is part of the Factory Literacy Programme (FLP), which was conceptualized by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and the Phnom Penh UNESCO Office in late 2015 following the National Literacy Campaign 2015 (NLC). One of the lessons learned following the NLC was that the fast-growing garment industry in Cambodia has attracted numerous workers, especially from rural and remote areas, to the garment and manufacturing industries. Further, the 2013 report by the Ministry of Planning on Women and Migration in Cambodia showed that 85 per cent of the 605,000 workers in garment and footwear factories were women, of whom 14 per cent were illiterate and 29 per cent demonstrated low levels of literacy.

Targeting these workers, MoEYS, with support from UNESCO and in partnership with NGOs like Sipar, developed the FLP, a special literacy initiative for factories. The programme was developed with support from UNESCO’s Capacity Development for Education Programme (CapED) (formerly CapEFA) and subsequently funded through the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education. The FLP aims to help young women and girls working in factories to acquire basic functional literacy skills and empower them to better understand their own fundamental rights.

The FLP utilizes a participatory approach to actively engage various partners and stakeholders. The Garment Manufacturers Association (GMAC) in Cambodia has been consulted to encourage the implementation of literacy classes within factories and during working hours. Volunteers from factories have been recruited to run the literacy classes, while Sipar and the local NGO Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD) have been mobilized to share technical resources to develop learning materials. The programme has engaged the Government of Cambodia and cooperated with relevant ministries to:

  • undertake awareness raising and advocacy for technical departments, relevant NGOs and factory managers;
  • develop the literacy package and learning-teaching materials;
  • provide training for literacy facilitators;
  • pilot the literacy package for girls and young women in more than 20 factories (including 12 within existing LRCs).

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the first phase of the programme was to enhance the literacy skills of garment factory workers, thus helping to empower them.

This was to be achieved by pursuing the following objectives:

  • Enable young women and girls working in garment factories to acquire basic literacy skills and empower them to realize their other fundamental rights as well as to promote public-private partnership (PPP) and cooperate social responsibility (CSR) in Cambodia.
  • To create, supply and maintain LRCs in garment factories as a space for: workers’ literacy classes; awareness sessions on social issues; and a borrowing documents service that would provide workers with access to reading materials and information. LRCs would be installed in existing spaces such as an office, training or storage room.
  • And in doing so, to provide an efficient and low-cost method of improving working conditions and productivity, as well as an opportunity for independent learning.

Programme Implementation

The programme is currently being implemented over two phases. The first phase of the project was implemented from 2015 to 2018, and the second phase of the project will be implemented from 2018 to 2021. So far, within the framework of the first phase of the project, Literacy Classes for Factory Workers has taken place over the course of three sessions with a duration of five to six months each. The first session took place from January to May 2017, the second session from June to December 2017, and the third session started in February 2018 and is currently ongoing.

The Implementation of Literacy Classes in Factories

A core component of the programme is the implementation of literacy classes for workers (see Pictures 1 and 2). As part of its CapED support to the FLP, UNESCO has negotiated with the MoEYS to agree to engage factory employees as literacy teachers. Accordingly, each factory selects two employees to be trained by the Ministry of Education as literacy teachers. These teachers facilitate literacy classes for their fellow garment factory work colleagues for approximately 50 minutes per day. During the first session of the first phase (January to May 2017), eight literacy classes were implemented in six factories; during the second session (June to December 2017), seven literacy classes were implemented in seven factories. In 2018, new literacy classes were implemented in 19 factories. The classes take place in LRCs or a training room according to the particular situation.

Picture 1:Literacy teachers supporting learners

Picture 2: Factory workers attending a literacy class

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The literacy classes employ a combination of traditional and learner-centred teaching approaches and methodologies. Given the limited class time (50 minutes), literacy teachers usually spend one quarter of the class using a top-down approach and the remaining three quarters of the class employing a learner-centred approach. The learner-centred approach seeks to encourage interaction between learners through group activities, role play and use of the Khmer Literacy app, which provides practical reading exercises based on the content of the lessons.

Recruitment and Training of Literacy Teachers


Two literacy teachers are recruited by a human resources manager from the staff of each factory to receive training from the Ministry of Education. They are usually recruited from the human resources, administrative, compliance or corporate social responsibility offices of the factory, although one factory did select a worker for the role. Selection is based on the employee’s education level (at least Grade 12) as well as their motivation and attitude. Most of the literacy teachers already have some sort of responsibility for training new workers in the factory (e.g. in security, safety, rules, and behaviour).


Upon selection, the literacy teachers attend a 12-day training course conducted by trainers from the Ministry of Education which also provides financial support. There are typically five trainers for every group of 25 trainees. The first 10 days of the teacher training course are dedicated to pedagogical and technical content focusing specifically on mathematics and the Khmer language. Literacy teachers learn basic teaching, lesson planning and course organization techniques, and they also gain practical teaching experience through role-playing exercises. During the last two days of the course, facilitators from the International Labour Organization (ILO) host a session on basic labour laws and rights. The teachers are encouraged to share this information with their students.

During the teacher training course, teachers receive textbooks, a teacher guidebook, and other materials. The teacher guidebook was developed in Khmer by UNESCO, the Ministry of Education and Sipar and serves as a key tool for the preparation of lesson plans. Upon completion of the training course, literacy teachers also receive a certificate of attendance from the Ministry of Education. From 2018, literacy teachers, as contractual teachers, have received 50 per cent of a teacher’s salary as financial compensation ($130 per month), provided by the Ministry of Education.

From 2015 to 2018, 30 factories participated in three teacher training courses during the first phase of the programme. During the first session of the first phase (January to May 2017), 12 literacy teachers from six factories participated in the course. During the second session of the first phase (June to December 2017), 22 participants from 11factories participated. Finally, during the third session of the first phase (February 2018 onwards), 26 participants from 13 factories attended the course. In May 2017, a consultative workshop was hosted after the first literacy teacher training session. During the workshop, teachers from seven factories, along with the UNESCO education team, the Ministry of Education trainers, the programme coordinator, and technical assistants from Sipar and CWPD, assessed the training session and commented on challenges and solutions. Another consultative workshop is planned for 2018 or 2019.

Picture 3:Literacy teachers learning to use the literacy app on tablets

Recruitment and Enrolment of Learners

Participants of the literacy classes are the factory staff and workers. Those employees who are interested in joining the classes are required to take a preliminary test to determine their initial literacy levels. The pre-test content is provided by the Ministry of Education and is equivalent to grade three primary education level. It comprises reading, writing, and oral components. More specifically, learners are required to read a simple text, answer a few questions related to the text, and solve basic mathematical problems. Learners are also selected based on their motivation and availability to participate in the classes.

The literacy classes are advertised to workers by middle managers in the factories. To promote the literacy classes, UNESCO and Sipar produced a three-minute promotional video about the project. The video, entitled To Be Literate Changes Your Life , was broadcast in September 2016 as part of International Literacy Day, as well as in various factories equipped with LRCs. Furthermore, former and current learners are encouraged by their literacy teachers to spread awareness among their fellow colleagues.

Programme content


The curriculum is based on eight topics, which relate to the workers’ daily lives. They are: family, hygiene, family planning, nutrition, money management, domestic violence, road safety, and civil status (birth certificates, identity cards, wedding certificates, etc). Each topic is embedded with various exercises which teach learners to read and write as well as develop other soft skills, such as managing one’s personal budget, taking care of oneself, and registering a new born baby in one’s commune.

Initially, a 60-hour curriculum to be implemented over a three-month period was planned; it was predicted that each topic would require seven to eight one-hour sessions to complete (a total of 60 hours). However, a test run in six factories during the first session of the first phase (January to March 2017) revealed that 60 hours was insufficient. This was because learning the alphabet took longer than expected. The literacy class curriculum was subsequently extended to 80 to 120 hours (over a period of five to six months).

Teaching Materials

Literacy and Numeracy Textbooks

With support from UNESCO CapED, two textbooks – one for literacy and one for numeracy – were developed and are used during classes. The books were designed by a team of representatives from UNESCO, Sipar, the Cambodian Ministry of Education, CWPD and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA). The publishing team at Sipar designed the books’ layout and printing of the first 700 copies was co-funded by UNESCO and Sipar. The literacy textbook focuses on teaching basic literacy skills in the Khmer language, and the numeracy book focuses on the four operations (addition, multiplication, subtraction and division), as well as basic decimals, fractions, weights and measurements (see Pictures 4, 5 and 6).

Picture 4: The covers of two manuals for teachers

Picture 5: A lesson on weights from the maths textbook

Picture 6: Lessons from literacy textbooks

The Khmer Literacy App

A specially developed app, The Khmer Literacy App, is also used (see Picture 8). It contains practical exercises that relate to the content of the classes. Development of the app was co-funded by Weave Our Future Foundation (Auchan) and Agence Française de Development (AFD), and it was produced by Sipar in cooperation with Open Institute, a local NGO. It is used as a supplementary teaching material during and after class hours and can be downloaded onto a tablet or a smartphone from Google Play, free of charge . Learners can access the app either through their own tablets or smartphones, or through the LRC’s tablet.

Picture 7: Learners using the Khmer Literacy App

The app has 300 interactive reading exercises which link the content of the literacy classes to the eight topics mentioned above. These exercises utilize three learning techniques: simple word-picture association games, in which learners must select the correct word associated with a picture or the correct picture associated with a word; word-sound association games, in which the learner must select the correct word based on an audio recording; and a syllable identification game that requires the learner to select the remaining syllables of a word based on its first syllable.

Picture 8:Screen shots of the literacy app

Other Programme Activities

The LRC Borrowing Service

The LRCs provide a borrowing service that allows garment workers to access books and other educational materials during and after working hours (see Picture 9). At least three factory employees are trained in the library’s borrowing and consultation system, and to manage the library using a computer. The reading materials available at the LRCs include fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, soft skills guide books, flyers and posters. The libraries are also equipped with digital tablets, LCD screens, a computer and other audio-visual tools that allow the workers to access educational material via the internet.

Picture 9 and 10:Factory workers reading books in their LRC

Peer Educator and Social Awareness Sessions

Beyond the literacy classes and borrowing service, the LRCs serve as venues and sources of materials for peer educator training sessions. These social awareness workshops, held for 10 to 20 garment workers during their free time, cover topics relating to nutrition, health and financial literacy. Peer educators are selected from the factory staff and are trained by CWPD and Sipar. Each LRC is usually equipped with eight flip charts and other educational tools for use during the sessions.

Picture 11: A training session of peer educators on social issues

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Tests designed by the teachers themselves are conducted every month to reinforce learners’ skills and assess their progress. These tests usually take the form of written exercises (on words and sentences) or oral questions. A final test (both written and verbal) is carried out at the end of the course to assess the reading, writing and numeracy skills ultimately achieved by the participant. Upon completion of the course, learners receive a certificate of basic literacy from the Ministry of Education. The certificate gives access to further adult classes offered by the Ministry of Education, equivalent to primary and then secondary level.

Monitoring and Evaluation of the Literacy Classes


The literacy classes are monitored on a regular basis by MoEYS, Sipar and UNESCO. UNESCO has provided financial support to MoEYS and Sipar to conduct regular monitoring visits and a pedagogical assistant employed by Sipar to oversee classes across all the participating factories. The pedagogical assistant visits each literacy class at least twice during a six-month session or upon requests from individual literacy teachers. During these on-site visits, the pedagogical assistant explains how to use the app, provides technical advice on teaching, and collects information on course attendance and the progress of learners in order to improve the programme. In parallel, a team of trainers from the Ministry of Education also visits the classes on an occasional basis to provide advice on using the curriculum.


In May 2017, a team of Sipar and CWPD staff carried out an assessment of the programme. The assessment consisted of two questionnaires, one for literacy teachers and one for learners. Six factories were selected and eight teachers and 65 learners participated in the assessment. The objectives were to evaluate the knowledge and capacities of the new teachers, to evaluate learners’ progress, and to understand the challenges and needs of teachers and learners. The assessment provided useful information about the content of the learner and teacher manuals, the teaching methodology and the duration of training for the staff working as part time literacy teachers. This information was used to improve certain aspects of the programme. For example, the teacher training sessions were extended from 10 days to 12 days to increase practice times.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

Up to December 2017, the programme targeted six garment factories. During the first session, 136 workers initially registered to attend literacy classes and 96 learners completed the course in June or July 2017. Of the 165 workers who registered to attend the literacy classes in the second session, 101 learners (61 per cent) completed the curriculum in December 2017 and January 2018. The results of their final tests are still being assessed. In 2018, 19 factories are involved in the programme, with 28 literacy classes and 588 workers, among whom 449 are currently actively participating. Among 23 factories where literacy classes were implemented between 2017 and 2018, 12 are equipped with a LRC and 11 benefit from a reading corner supported by UNESCO CapEd.

Overall, the programme has had a positive impact on the learners’ literacy levels. This was confirmed by the assessment carried out in May 2017 which included self-evaluation questions. Almost all the learners who participated in the assessment stated that their literacy skills had improved since they started the literacy classes. More specifically, 51 per cent stated their literacy levels had ‘generally improved’ and almost 13 per cent stated that the literacy courses had provided them with ‘more knowledge’. Furthermore, 83 per cent of learners declared that they would be interested in participating in another level of the literacy programme. Improved literacy levels mean that workers are equipped with some of the skills required to acquire more knowledge on issues that affect their daily lives.

Although it is too early to assess the effects this programme has had on the lives of workers and their surrounding community, the findings thus far indicate that demand for expansion of the programme exists.


The following challenges have emerged during the implementation of the programme:

  • The selection criteria for learners were not clear enough, which led to disparities between the initial literacy levels of the learners. For example, the literacy classes consisted of both learners who were completely illiterate and learners who had already completed primary school.
  • Some of the lessons were too difficult to complete in the allocated time frame. Furthermore, the content of certain lessons needed to be reinforced by supplementary exercises and greater usage of the app.
  • Most of the literacy classes were organized during working hours. Thus, some middle managers were displeased by the fact that workers were absent from their sewing machines for around one hour per day.
  • The dropout rates for the first and second sessions were 34 per cent and 39 per cent respectively. This was mainly due to work pressure or a lack of motivation.

Lessons Learned

The following lessons have been learned during the first phase of the programme’s implementation:

  • The success of the programme depends largely on the commitment of senior managers in the factories. Senior managers play an instrumental role in motivating workers to participate and continue attending literacy classes. The workers are usually motivated when managers are enthusiastic about the programme.
  • The successful design and implementation of the programme requires the commitment of the Ministry of Education in close partnership with civil society organizations, UNESCO and the private sector.
  • Regular programme assessment and monitoring is needed to improve the programme content, methodology and tools.

Next Steps and Sustainability

The future prospects of the programme look positive. As stated above, UNESCO’s continued engagement and support will be critical to expand the coverage of the factory literacy programme. New factories have expressed interest in implementing literacy classes in 2018, and UNESCO and the Ministry of Education plan to extend the programme to 12 other provinces in Cambodia in the coming years. As a key implementing partner, Sipar will continue to collaborate and support this expansion in the factories, reaching 28,000 workers in 34 factories by 2021.

Plans to fully integrate the multi-stakeholder programme into the activities of the Ministry of Education is underway. In doing so, programme prospects for sustainability would be enhanced as the Ministry of Education would be fully responsible for all aspects of programme implementation, including funding.

Furthermore, plans to extend the programme to the intermediate literacy level and to develop the necessary manuals and teacher guides are in place. Factories that do not have enough space to implement LRCs will establish reading corners.



Mr Hok Sothik
Director, Sipar
Sipar, #9, Street 334, Boeung Keng Kang 1, Chamcarmon, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
PO Box 31, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For citation please use

Last update: 15 October 2018. Educational and Social Development of Garment Factory Workers, Cambodia. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 26 November 2022, 15:17 CET)

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