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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - English schools' standards in question as demand rises

English schools' standards in question as demand rises


English classes are a story of two classes. The expensive and supposedly better ones will provide students with all the available modern educational tools and staff while the poorest ones offer a bare bones environment.

Teaching English as a second language has long been a staple of ex-pat livelihood

in Phnom Penh. But with increasing demand by students for good English skills, some

of the schools are raising their standards.

The Cambodian yellow pages online lists 331 language schools, but many other smaller

ones are unlisted. Which schools are the best places to learn? What qualifications

are required to teach?

Interviews with teachers and students at 11 Phnom Penh language schools found that

there is a hierarchy of quality schools that have minimum qualifications for teachers

and the requirements are rising. But there are many other schools that still resist

making experience or other qualifications a requirement. Despite salary complaints,

qualified English teachers do sometimes stay for the long term. Like teachers everywhere,

they cite the good students - the ones who really want to learn as the chief reason.

Australian Marg Froude, who has spent three years teaching English in Phnom Penh,

the latest stop in a 30-year professional teaching career, says despite the difficulties

of teaching in Cambodia the personal satisfaction that she gets from teaching Khmer

students makes it worth the sacrifice.

Despite complaints about the lack of standardization within the Cambodian education

system, Froude reasons, "A satisfactory education system is going to require

patience. Cambodia's only really been at peace for ten years - you can't be too critical

just yet." She teaches at the Australian Centre for Education (ACE).

After coming to Cambodia in 2003 for a holiday, Australian Paul Cameron decided to

stay. Although he had no teaching qualifications he was able to get a job teaching

with a reputable language school on the basis of being a native speaker.

"I was just given the study material and a list of students and told where to

be and when. There was no guidance, no introductions, no orientation and no one observed

my teaching. I must admit I was a bad teacher at first, but no one seemed to notice

and they kept paying me."

After three years, he returned to Australia to upgrade his skills with a Teaching

English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course which will make him more competitive

on the market when he returns to Cambodia. High end schools are raising fees and

paying teachers more, so higher qualifications can pay off.

Long term Phnom Penh resident Ian Woodford says the quality of teaching has improved

since he started teaching English in 1994. He recalls a revolving door for students

and teachers both. "The directors didn't have a clue, the teachers didn't have

a clue - you had to organise everything yourself," he says.

These days the average pay for foreign teachers in Phnom Penh is $10 per hour although

some schools pay up to $20. Hours spent on class prep, writing exams and correcting

papers are unpaid. Full time teachers can teach from 22-30 hours per week, which

generally adds up to just above $1,000 per month for an average teacher. But school

holidays are unpaid, so long Khmer holiday periods can cut mercilessly into the salary.

Interviews with students and teachers from 11 schools found that ACE was regarded

as having the highest standards. New World Institute and Pannasastra University's

English language program were also regarded highly by the students. Many University

English programs, such as Norton and the Royal University of Cambodia, received favorable

comments. At ACE, director Louise FitzGerald says the school, set up in 1992, is

the only internationally accredited English language centre in Cambodia. As a member

of the National English Accreditation Scheme (NEAS) it meets Australian standards

for teaching.

FitzGerald said they keep up standards with regular teacher observation, a teacher

mentor scheme, placement testing for students, appropriate curriculum and zero tolerance

on cheating. "Cambodians do realize when the teaching is good," she said.

"Word of mouth is huge in Cambodia-we always have a [student] waiting list."

ACE has 58 foreign teachers and 10 Khmer teachers teaching 3,800 students in Phnom

Penh and 850 in their Siem Reap branch. Tuition ranges from $110 to $200 for a 45

hour term. Pannasastra's Intensive English Language Program costs $160 per term with

180 contact hours. Many students have sponsors or work for organizations that pay

their fees. There are other less expensive options that also offer volunteer teaching

experience to would be teachers. One is the 15-year-old Foreign Language and Computer

project (FLC) on Street 258. Tuition is $4 to $5 a month for a one-hour daily lesson.

"Our students are mostly from the provinces," said Khoerun Sakheang who

studied at the school himself, then began to teach as a volunteer, and now is project

manager. He says the school offers scholarships to poor students and about a third

of FLC's 300 students study for free.The school employs eight Khmer teachers and

as many as 50 volunteers, who could be backpackers, practice teaching students, or

professionals who want to volunteer. "They can learn from us and we can learn

from them," says Sakheang.

He is putting together a new curriculum. Despite inconsistencies, the flow of students

keeps coming, and if they work hard, they'll learn English, he says.



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