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Bringing teachers back home

THERE is a teacher drain from Cambodia’s rural countryside to Phnom Penh and other urban centres. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is trying to stop it with various initiatives and policies, but unless economic opportunities in the Kingdom’s more remote areas are improved, the flight of educators to the city will continue.

The lack of teachers is a national problem, with one teacher for every 41 students in the Kingdom, but the shortage is particularly severe in rural and remote areas, where there is one teacher for every 50 students. “Ideally, we would have 40 students per class, but now we have some classes with 65 students because we can’t get more teachers at our school,” said Phan Sophea, a secondary school principal in Kandal province.

The situation differs in each province, but as you move away from the town centres there is a widespread drop in educational performance. “In Preah Vihear town we have many students and schools for them to go to, but sometimes at schools in more remote areas we have to find untrained members of the community to teach,” said Ouk Boreyrun, provincial education director for Preah Vihear province.

We want more
The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), which counts its members at 3,900, has been lobbying for a raise in teachers’ salaries since its inception in 2001. Despite the government’s measures of increasing teachers’ salaries by 20 percent each year, Rong Chhun, the president of CITA, says that salaries are not high enough for teachers in remote areas to maintain a decent living.

“They work for four hours a day as public school teachers, and then there is no other opportunity for income. They can’t feed their family on US$35 to $45 a month,” he said. “In Phnom Penh there are many opportunities for extra work and study. If they want to get teachers to go to the rural areas, they need to compensate them somehow.”

At a CITA teachers rally in Phnom Penh on October 5 that coincided with World Teachers Day, 250 educators from 15 provinces demanded a salary increase to 1 million riels (US$244) per month. “When our stomachs are hungry, we cannot teach because we have no power; the government should pay more attention to improving teachers’ lifestyles,” said Phat Theavy, representing teachers from Prey Veng.

At a press conference later that day, ministry officials said that calls for an improved standard of living for provincial teachers have not gone unheard, but that paying teachers 1 million riels a month is unfounded when compared to changes in the economy. According to Thaong Borath, director of the Education Ministry’s Department of Personnel Affairs, payments of between $10 and $15 were given to some 25,454 teachers in remote areas to compensate them for the inaccessibility of their work location. The ministry has also instituted programmes to encourage Teacher Training Centre graduates to head back to their homeland.

Going home for good
Through a partnership with the United States Education Programme (USEP), 300 new teachers have been placed in remote primary schools in Mondulkiri, Kampong Cham and Kratie provinces in the last two years through the 9+2 program. USEP located candidates in lower secondary school (7-9 grade) and provided financial support and tutoring for students to finish grade 9 and attend teacher training colleges. In return, the young educators promised to return to teach at their childhood primary school.

Also beginning this year, teachers who commit to working in Cambodia’s remote areas will not have to wait to become full-fledged teachers and receive their full salaries, as do most graduates of the training centres, who wait seven to 12 months for a salary.

“Many of our students are going to the provinces because they can get their salary seven months earlier than if they stay in Phnom Penh,” said Dr Im Koch, director of the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.

The government provides full financial support for students to study at training centres, requiring two years of methodology training for primary school teachers and a year of study at the national institute and a specialised degree for secondary school teachers at public schools.
In return, teachers must return to their home provinces to teach for two years.

Teachers wanted for hire
During his inauguration speech at the new Pursat High School, Im Sethy, Cambodia’s minister of education, youth and sport said Cambodia was in need of 5,000 new teachers.

The ministry wouldn’t say where these teachers will come from, but perhaps a better question is, where will they go.
“Cambodia has enough teachers for all of its students,” explained Rong Chhun.

“The government just needs to find a way to spread them out equally across the country.” Additional reporting by Tep Nimol

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