Teachers play a key role in the development of children, supporting them to gain knowledge and become responsible and productive members of society.
One of the most important aspects of any society is the younger generation; they represent the future direction and course that society will take. Teachers can enrich a generation of children so that the future is a safe, secure and better place to live for every person in the society.
October 5 was the World Teachers’ Day – a day devoted to appreciating, assessing and improving the educators of the world.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, UNESCO Phnom Penh is celebrating the event this year in the presence of His Excellency Dr Hang Chuon Naron in order to show our deep appreciation for the vital contribution that teachers have made in education and development of the Cambodian society.
These celebrations recognise the important role of teachers and galvanise support for their job as educators and also as role models. WTD is a natural extension of UNESCO’s year round work of promoting teachers, ensuring that this profession, so vital to the healthy functioning of society, is itself “healthy”.
WTD is an opportunity to rethink national issues facing teachers from an international perspective and to benchmark progress made by national teachers in a global context.
In just over three decades, Cambodia has grown an impressive teaching force of 86,000, which continues to grow. Teachers are one of the main pillars of a sound and progressive society.
They bear the weight and responsibility of teaching, and, apart from parents, are the main source of knowledge and values for children. Learning is not possible without professional, well-trained, well-supported, accountable and valued teachers.
In a survey carried out by the NGO Education Partnership (NEP) among 1,100 people throughout Cambodia, more than 90 per cent of respondents believe that teaching is a good profession, and two-thirds of them believe that teachers are respected or highly respected in Cambodian society.
Teachers pass on knowledge and values to children, prepare them for further education and working life and are main contributors to good education. This most important profession, however, does not get the recognition it deserves.
The profession does not attract qualified and ambitious people because it is poorly remunerated. To attain the goal of universal and good primary school education, we need to make teaching an attractive profession again.
Cambodia now faces a shortage of qualified primary teachers. This is especially true in remote, rural and disadvantaged areas, where the pupil-to-teacher ratio can be as high as 66.8 to one in Ratanakiri.
The national average is at 48.5 to one pupil-to-teacher ratio at the primary level. This figure is far from the recommended number by UNESCO of a pupil-to-teacher ratio of no bigger than 40 to one.
The current shortage of primary teachers is already seriously harming children’s learning, but the shortage will become even more extreme if action is not taken quickly. Furthermore, while many female teachers are involved in the profession at lower levels, there is evidence that it is harder for them to obtain positions of authority and leadership in the school system.
We, therefore, need to mainstream gender equality in the profession as the lack of female teachers as role models hinders girls’ opportunities to access quality education.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has developed this year the new Teacher Policy in order to enhance teacher professional development and training, teacher deployment and teacher motivation.
We appreciate the continuous efforts made in order to upgrade this profession, and acknowledge that it is with the support of everyone including governments and educational institutions at all levels, teachers’ associations, civil society organisations, development partners, the private sector, parents and teachers themselves, that we share this responsibility for supporting teachers and their working conditions.
The universally subscribed goal that “by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality” (Declaration of The World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in 2000) can only be achieved if children can have access to motivated and knowledgeable teachers.
As Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, states: “Teachers hold the keys to a better future for all.” From ancient times, teachers have played an important role in our society.
There is no stronger foundation for lasting peace and sustainable development than a quality education provided by well trained, valued, supported and motivated teachers.
The education of future generations hangs in the balance unless we can rise to the challenge of putting the best possible teacher in every classroom.
Anne Lemaistre is the UNESCO Representative in Cambodia.