Room to Read: Local Language Publishing Programme, Cambodia

  • Date published:
    9 July 2012

Programme Overview

Programme Title Local Langauge Publishing Programme (LLPP)
Implementing Organization Room to Read Cambodia
Language of Instruction Khmer
Funding Government of Cambodia, Barclays Capital, Credit Suisse, Priory, Google, Microsoft, Sabre Foundation, Pearson Foundation, The Asia Foundation and Better World Books, Atlassian, Dubai Cares
Programme Partners Ministry of Education, Khmer Writers’ Association, SIPAR, Shanti Volunteer Association (SVA), Cambokids; Asian Foundation

Context and Background


After gaining independence from France in 1953, Cambodia made concerted efforts to promote universal access to education by the expanding the provision of pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education across the country. Unfortunately, the substantial achievements made in this regard during the two decades following independence were systematically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime (1975 to 1979) which abolished education and systematically destroyed textbooks, school buildings and other educational resources. More perniciously, educated youth and professionals such as teachers, writers, and scientists were killed, forced to work in labour camps or forced to flee to other countries during this period. It is estimated that by the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, between 75 and 80 per cent of Cambodian educators were either killed, died of over-work or fled the country. Furthermore, only 2,717 out of 21,311 primary schools survived the regime’s onslaught, while about half of the written material available in the Khmer language was destroyed. Because of this, an entire generation of Cambodian children was not only deprived of education but also of educational role models. The enormity of the Khmer Rouge’s onslaught on education is vividly manifested by the fact that the national illiteracy rate rose to over 40 per cent by 1979 when they were deposed from power.

Since 1979, successive Cambodian regimes have made substantial progress in rehabilitating and reconstructing the national educational system. Significantly, the State increased funding for education and promulgated the universal basic education law which guarantees every child the right to free and compulsory education for nine years. As a result, many schools and tertiary institutions such as teacher-training colleges were constructed. Equally important, the State also established large-scale non-formal educational programmes for youths and adults and recruited people with any level of education to work as educators. Efforts were also made to identify and encourage former teachers to rejoin the educational sector while subsidies were provided to enable disadvantaged children to gain access to education. As a result of these proactive measures, Cambodia’s educational system has experienced expansive growth over recent years, the most significant statistic being the rise in the primary school net enrolment (89 per cent as of 2008) and the concomitant rise in youth literacy rate (see above). Similarly, the total adult literacy rate increased from a low of approximately 61 per cent (76 per cent for men and 46 per cent for women) in 1998 to 74 per cent (85 per cent for men and 64 per cent for women) as of 2008.

However, given the enormity of the Khmer Rouge regime’s onslaught on education, Cambodia’s educational system continues to be beset by many challenges. These include the acute shortage of qualified teachers, financial resources and appropriate educational resources (such as school buildings and textbooks) as well as the failure of most parents to send their children to school due to poverty. There are also acute disparities with regards to the provision of basic education to rural and urban areas. As a result, school attendance, retention and achievement rates as well as the quality of education in Cambodia, particularly in rural areas, continues to be low. It is estimated, for instance, that about 14 per cent of children aged 6 to 11 years had no access to primary education as of 2005 to 2009. The net primary school attendance rates were below 50 per cent in some remote rural areas during the same period. In addition, only 19 per cent Cambodians who attend primary school proceed to secondary school. The quality of education is also compromised by an acute shortage of culturally and linguistically relevant books for children because most books are only available in foreign languages or are intended for mature learners and readers.

Hence, in an effort to address these educational challenges and compliment government efforts of promoting access to education for all, Room to Read Cambodia – an educational NGO – initiated various integrated and child-centred educational programmes, including the Local Language Publishing (LLPP).

Room to Read: A brief history of its origins and core mandate

Room to Read was founded by Mr John Wood in 2000 following his extensive visits to schools in rural Nepal where he witnessed, on the one hand, the enthusiasm of all educational stakeholders in promoting the provision of education to all children and, on the other hand, the severe shortage of educational resources and infrastructure in rural schools. Touched by these discoveries, Mr Wood and his colleagues formed Room to Read which collected books from well-wishers and donated them to rural schools in Nepal. Since then, Room to Read has launched a number of integrated and comprehensive literacy and educational programmes which are currently being implemented in Africa (Zambia, and South Africa) and Asia (Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Laos and Nepal). These include:

  • Reading Room: through which Room to Read establishes and stocks libraries with English and local-language children’s books and games in order to create a child-friendly learning environment.
  • School Room: aims to facilitate the construction of schools so that children can learn in a friendly and safe environment.
  • Local Language Publishing: (see details below)
  • Girls Education: for the provision of long-term, holistic support to girls in order to enable them to pursue and complete their secondary education.

The primary goal of these programmes is to create sustainable educational opportunities for all children (especially for those living in disadvantaged communities) and to foster a culture of reading among primary school children through the construction of and provision of quality educational resources to rural schools. To date, Room to Read’s programmes have supported more than 1,442 schools, established 11,246 libraries, published more than 553 book titles and distributed more than 9.4 million books in the participating countries. Overall, Room to Read’s programmes have reached and thus enabled more than five million children in Africa and Asia to have access to quality basic education. In recognition, Room to Read has received a number of awards for its distinguished work over the years; the most notable being the Academy for Educational Development’s Breakthrough Ideas in Education Prizes (2008) and UNESCO’s 2011 Confucius Prize for Literacy for its Local Language Publishing Programme (LLPP). In Cambodia, most recently, the International Board of Books for Young People (IBBY) in Cambodia honored two of Room to Read’s LLPP titles, as the best content and best illustration of children’s book in the IBBY Honour List.

Local Language Publishing Programme (LLPP)

The LLPP is an educational programme which seeks to create sustainable educational opportunities for all children through the publication and distribution of high quality and culturally relevant children’s reading materials, including fiction and nonfiction, to rural schools in Cambodia. Accordingly, Room to Read works in close collaboration with local authors and illustrators as well as local writers’ associations and publishers to research and publish a wide range of thematic, high quality, colourful and culturally relevant children’s reading materials (including books, posters, story cards and conversation charts) in Khmer, the official and widely spoken langauge in Cambodia. The LLPP is an educational programme which seeks to create sustainable educational opportunities for all children through the publication and distribution of high quality, culturally relevant, gender sensitive, and developmentally appropriate children’s reading materials, including fiction and nonfiction, to rural schools in Cambodia.. The program seeks to develop engaging new content that promotes literacy, materials that will inspire them to read, expand their minds, and develop a lifelong love for reading and learning. Most of the themes promote strong universal values including pertinent global issues such as:

  • basic literacy (including vocabulary, numeracy, rhymes, poems);
  • life skills (moral and values education, family life);
  • gender equality;
  • health, (HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, nutrition);
  • art, culture, and the environment; and
  • other themes based on the curriculum of the Ministry of Education.

Once published, the reading materials are distributed to local schools, libraries and other institutions within the context of Room to Read’s Reading Room and Literacy Instruction programme as well as outside Room to Read, including other public schools and NGOs that work in the education field.

Aims and Objectives

  • Nurture a culture of life-long reading and learning among children.
  • Promote the development of literacy environments in disadvantaged communities.
  • Foster a culture of writing among locals.
  • Promote the development of culturally relevant reading materials in local languages.
  • Compliment government efforts in promoting universal access to education though the provision of affordable Khmer books for children.
  • Increase access to culturally and locally relevant reading materials for children.
    • Publish local books with new contents each year to support Reading Room and Literacy Instruction Program’s libraries and classrooms.
    • Distribute these materials to other public schools and relevant NGOs.

  • Develop the local children’s publishing industry.
    • Hire local authors and illustrators to produce new books.
    • Facilitate writers and illustrators workshops to build the capacity of emerging talent.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Institutional Partnerships

Since its inception in 2000, Room to Read has established solid functional partnerships with a number of organisations (see list of funding and implementing partners). These partners provide Room to Read with the critical financial and organisational or technical support necessary for the construction of libraries as well as the research and production of high quality and culturally relevant children’s books in Khmer. They also play a role in raising public awareness about Room to Read’s programmes as well as its overall mission. In order to increase the potential success and long-term sustainability of the programmes, Room to Read also enlists the active participation of local communities in the implementation of the programmes by collaborating with NGOs and government education officials as well as local authors and illustrators.

Development of Learning Materials

In order to facilitate the publication and distribution of high quality and culturally relevant children’s books, Room to Read has organised a Book Development and Coordination Committee comprising of members of the Khmer Writers’ Association, various local NGOs and local writers and illustrators. This Committee is entrusted with the task of publishing a wide range of reading and learning materials for children in Khmer. The materials are planned based on a gap analysis in coordination with the Reading Room and Literacy Instruction Program to determine where the gaps are in the libraries and classrooms where we work as well as what is missing in the market. The LLPP team also reviews the curriculum with the Curriculum Department to explore methods in which themes and subject matter can be linked to some of the materials. Workshops are then conducted for emerging writers and illustrators, as well as published authors to develop these materials. Among other things, participants explore the various methods in which children learn to read, the different elements that constitute a storybook, incorporating a gender lens, and interacting with children and seeing the world from the point of view of a child. They go through practical hands-on exercises which guides them from concept to completing an initial draft, which gets refined through a critical feedback process in the workshop. The outputs of the workshops are then reviewed by the team and stories are selected to be developed further through editing, proofreading, illustration, design and layout until it goes to print.

Distribution of Learning Resources

The majority of our books go to libraries and classrooms where our Reading Room programs and Literacy Instruction Program operate. In these areas, librarians and teachers are trained on the usage of these books. We also allot a number of copies to be distributed to other schools and other NGOs working in the education sector.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

Room to Read monitors and evaluates its programmes on an ongoing basis in order to ensure the continued effective and efficient implementation of the projects. The monitoring and evaluation process is also used to identify strengths and weaknesses to inform programme decisions and make timely improvements. Room to Read Cambodia is also conducting a children’s preference study which will help inform the design and content of the books we are producing.


To date, the LLPP has facilitated the publication of 121 book titles and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies to Room to Read’s network of libraries and to other national schools. This has enabled disadvantaged children – most of who had never had access to books – to have access to quality learning materials and has enhanced the quality of education in schools and thus children’s potential to succeed in school as well as to improve their long-term living standards. The provision of free learning resources has also made it more affordable for parents to send their children to schools.


A major challenge is the lack of beginners’ reading books in the country. Room to Read along with experts and consultants are currently developing guidelines to help inform program design, including gap analysis, planning, workshops, and field testing.

Another challenge is the need to continue building on the capacity of local writers and illustrators. The programme seeks to find talented individuals who are either familiar withz the context of our work, or heavily engaged in the communities where we work.

Lessons Learned

Close collaboration is critical to ensure that we are producing high quality work, especially among literacy experts, librarians and teachers, writers and illustrators, and government officials.


Our capacity building efforts among local talent and our partnership with the government are some of the ways in which the LLPP program is building sustainability in achieving its goals. By doing so, we are able to build on the creative industry as well as ensure buy-in from the government, and impact the demand for high quality children’s books in the county’s publishing industry.



Mr Kall Kann
Country Director
Room to Read Cambodia
Website: http://www.roomtoread.org/

99/F International Commerce Center
One Austin Road West
Kowloon Hong Kong
Voice: +852 2537 6590
Fax: +852 2537 6516

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. Room to Read: Local Language Publishing Programme, Cambodia. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 26 March 2023, 09:38 CEST)

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