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Solo act taking its toll

The entrance to Samrong Leu village’s primary school on the weekend in Battambang province
The entrance to Samrong Leu village’s primary school on the weekend in Battambang province where Savoeurn Dimang is responsible for teaching more than 100 students. Vireak Mai

Solo act taking its toll

It was difficult enough for Savoeurn Dimang when, until a month ago, he was one of just three teachers running the local primary school in Kors Kralor district’s Samrong Leu village.

But now, with one teacher having left for South Korea and the other bowing out for health reasons, the 32-year-old has been left to single-handedly teach four classes across six grades. In all, he is responsible for the education of 124 students.

“It is very difficult for me. But I do not know how to deal with this situation. I want this problem to be solved,” he says.

His wife told the Post that Dimang is almost “going crazy”, rushing from classroom to classroom and trying to manage all the students by himself.

Though Dimang’s situation is extreme, a lack of teachers in Cambodia’s primary schools is common. In 2012, there was only one teacher per 48.5 primary school students nationwide, the 16th-highest ratio among all countries monitored by UNESCO globally.

Low salaries are to blame, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, with rural areas disproportionately affected.

“It is a matter of low salary [and location]. Teachers in remote areas cannot support their living and don’t want to work in those places,” he said yesterday. “In general, the remote areas are in serious need of teachers, but the towns are abundant because teachers pay bribes to teach at an easy place [to live].”

Dimang says the community is in the middle of a local search to find someone who can be contracted as a teacher to help ease his burden.

“But no one wants to teach here, because teachers on contract only get 140,000 riel ($35) a month.”

Deep in the heart of the countryside, the school has combined multiple grades for years due to a lack of teachers, but parents say the situation is now so bad they are worried their children will be illiterate.

“Since the Khmer New Year, our children have only studied for between six and seven days. There is no teacher, because he alone has to teach up to six classes,” a village official who requested anonymity said.

“There have not been enough teachers in this village for 10 years.”

The community, however, do not blame Dimang for their children’s plight.

“He alone is responsible for six classes. How does this happen?” said a 52-year-old parent, who also did not want to be named.

“Our children are illiterate . . . They will be jobless when they grow up. Before, they could go to Thailand to work, but now Thailand is arresting and returning Cambodian workers, so where will our children go for a job?” the parent said, referring to the mass exodus of Cambodians fleeing the military junta.

Kakada, 13, a grade four student at the school, admits he is learning little with the current arrangement.

“In a week, we only study for three days. We can’t read, and the teacher has to teach many classes one by one,” he told the Post as he returned home from fishing in a nearby pond with two classmates.

“When he goes to another class, we just sit and learn by ourselves.”

Village chief Un Veth said he has contacted World Vision International – which helped renovate the school in 2012 – and the provincial education department about the problem, but that no resolution has been forthcoming.

“The lack of teachers is the biggest challenge we are facing in my village,” he said.

Hou Bunthoeun, operations head for World Vision in Battambang, said that local authorities and his team have been looking for a new teacher.

Ngy Seth, director of the provincial Education Department, said he was not aware of the issue but would investigate.

“When we are lacking teachers in remote areas, we always employ any villagers who have enough ability to teach,” he said.

A number of officials at the Ministry of Education could not be reached for comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

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