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A teacher conducts learning exercises during a class at Wat Koh High School
A teacher conducts learning exercises during a class at Wat Koh High School last year in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen yesterday pledged to increase the monthly wage of teachers by the end of May. Pha Lina

Raise in store for teachers: PM

Cambodia's lowest-paid teachers will receive a $25 increase to their base monthly salary by the end of May, the government revealed yesterday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the raise at the opening of the 2015 National Literacy Campaign yesterday and reiterated his pledge to establish a base teacher salary of $250 by 2018.

“The salary system has never been organised since our teachers received rice [as salary], but it will happen soon, and teachers’ salaries will increase to at least 650,000 riel [$162] and our goal is at least 1 million riel [$250] for the lowest grade teachers,” Hun Sen said. “We will increase it step by step, we cannot fly like a helicopter.”

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron confirmed after the premier’s speech that the initial raise from $137 to $162 would come into effect by the end of May, adding that the salary hike would benefit some 50,000 mainly primary school teachers. There are 110,000 teachers in the country.

“This is a policy that the prime minister announced to balance between investing in hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure, including human resources. The increase in salary would be the priority, and at the same time, we have to balance with the infrastructure development,” Chuon Naron said.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party have made improving the education system a key pillar of their reform agenda – aimed at wooing back the voters that deserted them in droves at the 2013 election.

But the party has repeatedly come under fire for attempting to outlaw corrupt practices among teachers without addressing the underlying problem – their unsustainably low wages.

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said teachers needed the raise to $250 immediately because of the soaring cost of living expenses.

“The more the better. We support the policy, because the cost of living is going up every day and the civil servants cannot afford the cost of life. But $162 is not enough,” he said.

In 2013, the CNRP placed significant salary increases for civil servants and armed forces at the centre of their election campaign.

Rong Chhun, president of the The Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, said he was very happy to hear the prime minister’s pledge, but also stressed the amount would not cover basic living costs in light of inflation.

“I think the government has had the capacity to increase teachers’ salaries [for some time], but I don’t know why they just made it [the increase] now,” he said.

Hun Sen also announced yesterday that the country was still aiming to meet a 84.4 per cent adult literacy target by the end of the year. The rate stood at 79.7 per cent in 2013.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH AND DAVID BOYLE

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