By Dr Hang Chuon Naron, the minister of education, youth and sport, and Anne Lemaistre, the Unesco representative in Cambodia.
Yesterday, October 5, was World Teachers’ Day. We know that the teacher is the most important factor influencing quality of education and learning. A teacher’s role is more than passing on knowledge and skills of the subjects. It is to guide students to realise their potential by helping them to acquire skills such as critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration and team work, communication, and cross-cultural understanding to become responsible global citizens. We can have the best curriculum, best school facilities and technology, but without qualified, motivated and supported teachers, quality teaching and learning will not be realised.
The Unesco Global Education Monitoring Report 2013/14 flagged the learning crisis globally and called for urgent action. The recent World Bank World Development Report 2018 reiterates that this crisis continues. This learning crisis has costs not only for the future ambitions of children, but also for the current finances of governments. For example, the cost of 250 million children not learning the basics is equivalent to $129 billion, or 10 percent of global spending on primary education.
One of the strategies employed by some countries to avoid a learning crisis is investing in teachers. Unesco recommends these four strategic interventions: 1) recruit the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, 2) train all teachers well, both before and during their careers, 3) allocate teachers effectively by offering incentives to teach in disadvantaged areas, and 4) retain teachers through improved working conditions and career progression pathways.
In commemorating the World Teachers’ Day, we should also recognise the efforts and significant progress worldwide in assuring the provision of qualified teachers globally. The Unesco Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 highlighted that in 2014, 82 percent of teachers 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 and overcrowded classrooms in many of the less developed and developing countries. Unesco Institute of Statistic estimates that in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensuring equitable access to quality education for all by 2030 – countries will need to recruit 68.8 million qualified teachers, including 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary school teachers, to provide every child with primary and secondary education.
In Cambodia, significant progress has been observed such as the introduction of policies, including the formation of Committee for Teacher Development in response to teachers’ needs, salary increases and incentives, in-service training, in-service fast-tracking for bachelor’s degrees for lower secondary teachers teaching at upper secondary schools; and best performance teachers and school directors awards and appreciation.
The recent higher education reforms and government investments in most potential higher education institutions is to produce high-quality human resources for the country’s economic development. In addition, the strong position of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) placing teachers as the central pillar of education has led to a significant number of high school graduates with distinctions (A, B, and C grades) enrolling in teacher training centres. This is an indicator of success in making the teaching profession more attractive.
The government of Cambodia recognises the importance of investments in education and in particular in teachers. The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) expressed its firm position in increasing national budget allocations to the education sector at the MEF-MoEYS Meeting on Education Budget Priorities, in July. For example, the higher education subsector, which is expected to contribute to teacher education in coming years, is a priorty, receiving an increased national budget allocation in 2018.
While celebrating the progress made, we also recognise that significant challenges remain in terms of improving the quality of teaching and learning at all levels, including improving early grade learning, upgrading teacher qualifications and enhancing training standards, as well as ensuring supporting and motivating conditions to retain the qualified teachers in the system.
The MoEYS is working with international partners in implementing its Teacher Policy Action Plan (TPAP). For example, as envisaged in the TPAP, MoEYS is implementing the fast-track teacher qualifications upgrade programme, training of school directors on school-based management and institutionalised in-service training for teachers with mentoring support. Also, reform efforts are underway to ensure deployment of qualified and trained teachers in remote and disadvantaged schools, and provision of in-service continuous professional development and support for teachers and educators.
All of us owe it to our teachers, who have guided us and continue to guide and inspire us in our day-to-day lives. Let us all take a moment to remember the teachers and express our gratitude to them. We commemorate the 2017 World Teachers’ Day in Cambodia with the commitment to continue our partnership with the teachers, school support committees, the national and international development partners, civil society and the private sector in advancing the ongoing teacher reforms and make the teaching profession one of the most attractive in Cambodia. Thank you for your support.