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New maths lessons daunting: students

your say: Cambodia’s new maths curriculum

“I initially chose the high-level class because I wanted to try it, but it was too difficult for me, so now I have switched to the basic-level class.” – Leang Sokuntheara, 17, student

“The new book and the lessons are good, but only 15 to 20 percent of my students are interested in the material. It is new, so I have to revise all my previous lessons.” – Chan Sovannarak, 45, teacher

IT just doesn’t add up. So say youths who next year will become the first class of students to be tested on an updated and more challenging maths curriculum as part of the Kingdom’s national grade-12 exam.

The updated curriculum for the “high level” mathematics track includes lessons on new subjects including probability, parametric equations and long division, said Hourth Si Ath, a member of the Phnom Penh maths inspection committee.

“It’s challenging compared with the basic level,” Hourth Si Ath said. “It is also hard for the teachers because they have not been trained by the Ministry [of Education] about the teaching methodology.”

The updated maths curriculum, developed in 2005, was first implemented in 2008 for grade-10 students. These same students are now preparing to enter grade 12, and will thus need to demonstrate mastery of the new material in order to pass their high school exit exams next year.

Students have the option of selecting the “basic” or “high-level” track, though some say they did not realise what they were getting into when they opted for the more challenging curriculum in grade 10.

“These lessons and exercises are not suitable for my ability,” said Sun Dalin, 17, a student at Sisowath High School.
Hai Daneka, a 17-year-old student at Pursat High School, agreed.

“This is appropriate only for university students,” she said. “I’m worried about the national examination since this is the first time this material will be included.”

Kong Chantha, a maths teacher at Pursat High School, said teachers in more remote parts of the Kingdom had received little instruction in how to teach the material and were hindered by the lack of resources in their classrooms.

“Many of the exercises in the trigonometry section are hard to calculate in your head – you need a calculator,” Kong Chantha said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, dismissed the concerns of the students, noting that they had the option to switch curriculums if they found the material too challenging.

He said, however, that teachers, particularly in rural areas, may require additional training in order to explain the material properly.

“It may be a problem for teachers if they don’t have the competence to teach it,” Rong Chhun said.

The Ministry of Education is working to address this issue, said Eng Kimly, director of the ministry’s department of curriculum development, planning expanded teacher training sessions in advance of the new school year and the impending national exams.

Khang Kim Sreang, a math teacher at Sisowath High School, said that although many students had expressed concern about the new curriculum, its difficulty had been exaggerated.

“It’s appropriate for the students – they’ve just heard that it’s more difficult by word of mouth,” he said. “Teachers just need to find more exercises for students to do.”

In the event that students do struggle with the exam, Eng Kimly said, the most likely cause would not be the difficulty of the material, but a more familiar culprit. “What we are worried about is that students will not study,” he said.

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