World Teachers’ Day, celebrated yesterday in Cambodia, is observed annually to acknowledge the importance of teachers in student learning. Teachers’ Day is a day when we remember how the teachers in our lives have devoted their time and commitment to help us become better people and good citizens. It is a meaningful day for everyone to pay respect, acknowledge and share gratitude for the dedication of teachers, as well as to support teachers to continue to share their knowledge and skills for building a better society.
Teachers are the backbone of quality education and fundamental of human development. Good quality education begins with a good teacher. Acknowledging the crucial role of teachers in improving the quality of education, World Teachers’ Day this year celebrated under the theme “Valuing Teacher, Improving Their Status”. We hope to bring attention to the importance of supporting qualified teachers, promoting their profession and upgrading their status to reflect their role in building human capital.
This theme also aims to highlight the new agenda for Education 2030 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4) dedicated towards building inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. In developing countries like Cambodia, a substantial increase in qualified teachers, through improved teacher training, is a way to work towards the Sustainable Development Goal 4 related to education.
Remarkable progress has been made in terms of supplying qualified teacher globally. According to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, 82 percent of teachers in 2014 had the minimum qualifications required to teach in pre-primary education, 93 percent in primary education and 91 percent in secondary education.
However, there is still an insufficient number of qualified teachers, which causes overcrowded classrooms in many of the poorest countries. UNESCO Institute of Statistic estimates that in order to achieve the SDG 4 by 2030, countries must recruit 68.8 million teachers, including 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary school teachers, to provide children with primary and secondary education.
In addition to teacher shortages, the different levels of minimum qualifications required for teachers between countries and the uneven distribution of well-trained teachers continue to negatively impact on quality of education. Based on available data for the global indicator of trained teachers, evidence shows that a large number of teachers appear not to have received minimum teacher training. The report also shows that many teachers feel undervalued and disempowered to the extent that it reduces teacher motivation and teaching performance. This is a big challenge in realising inclusive, equitable access to quality education, and students’ learning outcomes, especially in low income countries.
In Cambodia, significant improvements have been made in the education sector over the past years. However, challenges still remain affecting the quality of education including teacher shortages, teacher recruitment, teacher deployment and redeployment, and teacher qualification. Teacher shortages accumulated with the uneven deployment and redeployment of enlarged teacher workforce has not always responded to the real needs of schools and exacerbated teacher shortages at school level. The issue related to teacher qualifications, a recent report on Rapid Education Sector Analysis conducted by UNESCO-IIEP showed that in 2015, only 34 percent of the primary education staff had attained the last grade of lower secondary school. The report also showed that in 2013, 69 percent of lower secondary education staff and 39 percent of upper secondary staff hold only an upper secondary certificate.
The reforms made by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport place teachers central to the improvement of the education quality. Some progress related to teacher reforms was observed at both policy and implementation levels. At the policy level, following the Teacher Policy adopted in May 2013, a bold “Teacher Policy Action Plan (TPAP)” was formulated with participation from line ministries, development partners and civil society, to provide a clearer direction for systematic reform and implementation.
The TPAP aims not only to upgrade teacher qualification through pre- and in-service training programs but also design a teacher career pathway and professional development as the motivation mechanism for improving teachers’ working performance and retain them within the system. Through the reforms in the education sector, such as exam reform, school inspection, TPAP, and the increase of the teacher minimum salary to 800,500 riel (about $200) a month in 2016 and around 1 million in 2017, the value and motivation of teachers in Cambodia have been raised, which paved the way for inclusive, equitable access to quality of education, and students’ learning outcomes.
Valuing the vital role of teachers, the government came up with the national theme “Teacher Has the Ability to Shape the Students’ Future” to celebrate World Teacher’s Day. Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged this, stating: “We must remember and be grateful to teachers who have made efforts to provide us with knowledge and skills”.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport organised the event in collaboration with UNESCO, other development partners, civil society and private sector yesterday to express their appreciation for their crucial contributions to society throughout the year.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNESCO would like to take this opportunity to call for the continued support of the international and civil society communities, and the private sector in finalising and realising the policy documents into practice such as Teacher Education Provider Standards, Teacher Career Pathways, Continuous Professional Development and Teacher Rewarding System to support the implementation of TPAP and to upgrade the capacity and status of teachers, retain educators in the system and to make the profession more attractive.
As part of these efforts, UNESCO reaffirms its support to translate the TPAP into implementation by supporting the Royal University of Phnom Penh to pilot the Cambodian Innovative Teacher Education – pre-service teacher training (BA+1) for lower secondary schools to demonstrate the capacity of Royal University of Phnom Penh to be a strong teacher education provider. Also, UNESCO is finding ways to upgrade capacities of teachers who hold grade 9+2 certificate to acquire a Bachelor equivalent.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNESCO are ready to work together with other partners to provide support to teachers in all aspects – well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated, empowered and well-resourced – to make sure that their needs for supporting student learning are met. At the same time, we would suggest that all teachers seek opportunities to upgrade their own capacity through life-long learning in order to acquire the skills needed for life in the 21st century.
Dr Hang Chuon Naron is the minister of Education, Youth and Sport. Anne Lemaistre is the UNESCO representative in Cambodia.