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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Constructive Cambodian

The Constructive Cambodian

AS the Council of Ministers recently approved a draft budget law for 2011, hopes are high for those working in the education sector that this year’s rise in spending on the sector is a sign that public promises from the government to prioritise improvements in education marks the beginning of an upward trend in spending that will ultimately drive improvements in education and the residual development of the country’s human resources as a whole.

While $218 million of the $2.4 billion of spending in the draft budget was allocated to spending on education, a 9 percent rise on last year’s figure, slight increases are not likely to fix the problems plagueing education in the Kingdom, in particular low wages for teachers.

The increased spending on education sends a strong signal that the government’s strategic efforts to meet its 2015 plan of Education for All, as well as its long-term investment in human resources development, aren’t only lip service. But it’s not time to sit back and declare victory.

It’s critical to take a closer look at an issue facing teachers and students in every public school across the Kingdom. The financial pressure on underpaid teachers leads to low morale and stifled motivation among the very people that Cambodia desperately needs to provide guidance to help young children.

Even the practice of paying informal fees to public school teachers for a passing grade, text books or photocopied materials, which is generally seen as a forgiveable form of corruption allowing teachers to stay out of poverty, has a deleterious long-term effect on students whose perceptions of education and morality are shaped by their teachers.

In any classroom it is the teachers who set examples, and the children should follow in their footsteps. Their main role is to educate, to teach children to solve problems by explaining what’s right and what’s wrong. But there are times when their low salaries force them to act improperly. It happens every day and so often that most of us get used to it. It only gets our attention during national exams or tests when it’s reported in the media that teachers or examiners accepted bribes in exchange for ignoring their students, who are busy copying from each other, not to mention getting the answer sheets from their examiners.

A few months back, it became international news when Agence France Press reported that Cambodian high school students used mobile phones to cheat during the nation-wide exam to permit them to qualify to enter university. There seems to be a new spin on the same, tired story every year, but society’s ability to change the perception and behavior of students and teachers involved in corruption needs to happen fast if the next generation of Cambodians are going to have the skills to fill vital roles in improving the country.

How can Cambodia eradicate its rampant corruption when its younger generation sees their respected teachers openly taking money every day? The Anti-Corruption Law will set the rules for some, but as long as teachers must choose between food and morality, wholesale changes in their behaviour seem unlikely. Teachers should be able to rise above these types of problems and serve as role models. It is fundamental to a strong education system.

Children shouldn’t only learn the material in their text books while in school, they should also be guided towards honesty and strong social values. That’s not happening right now, but hopefully continued action by the government to increase their attention, and spending on education, will allow teachers to feed their families without taking money from the families of their students. It may not happen soon, but this could be the first step.

Can education improve in Cambodia if teachers don’t get paid more? tell us what you think at angkorone.com/lift.

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