From Human Capital Theory to Educational Capitalism: Critiquing the Privatization of Public Education in Cambodia

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Date(s) - 15/02/2013
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Room H 5.29, Level 5, Building H, Monash University Caulfield Campus


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS Seminar Series

William C. Brehm
University of Hong Kong

In order to receive the entire national curriculum in Cambodia, students must attend both mainstream schooling and Rean Kua, a form of fee-based private tutoring. Such a phenomenon, commonly referred to as “shadow education,” is not unique to Cambodia and has been found in various forms around the world. Explanations of why such educational practices exist within countries like Cambodia center on (1) inadequate government investments in and governance of education; (2) the desire by household to invest in their children’s education; and (3) the corrupt practices of teachers or administrators who force students to attend extra classes as a way to benefit personally.

Although each of these explanations provides some insight into parts of the phenomenon of Rean Kua, collectively they miss the global political economy that contemporary education is situated within and the consequent affects this has on the nation-state. This seminar will address shadow education in Cambodia through these different perspectives, drawing on a 2011 study funded by the Open Society Foundation on the achievement differentials and social inequality caused by the privatization of public education.

After critiquing each of the explanations, the seminar will end with an introduction to the concept of “educational capitalism,” which is my nascent theory used to describe educational systems wherein capital is produced, exchanged, and accumulated through educational commodities and which construct particular economic, political, and ethical relations within society.

William C. Brehm is a PhD student at the University of Hong Kong. His research focuses on the political economy of education in Cambodia. He graduated from Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA, USA) with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in comparative and international education. His most recent articles appear in the World Year Book of Education, Journal of Education Research Online, and European Educational Research Journal. He has worked in education since 2006 as a teacher in Taiwan, an NGO representative to the United Nations in New York, and researcher in Cambodia. Between 2010 and 2012, Brehm lived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, working for This Life Cambodia, an Australian-based non-governmental organization, as the director of research. As the associate editor of European Education: Issues and Studies, he stays connected to comparative education research in Europe while living in Asia. He can be reached at


CSEAS Seminar Convenor
Dr Julian Millie
Senior Lecturer – Anthropology/School of Political and Social Inquiry
Faculty of Arts, Monash University
Tel. +61 3 9905 2996
Fax. +61 3 9905 2410