Hang Chuon Naron, the Newly appointed Minister of Education, on his plans to improve teaching and end corruption and cheating in examinations
What are the biggest challenges in the education sector?
The main challenge in education sector is the provision of quality education.
So far, we have enlarged the equity in education, particularly in primary level. About 97 per cent of children register to school, recieving six years of education, which means almost all Cambodian people have acess to the basic six-year foundation of education. But we have to pay attention to the quality as well. Moreover, the number of students going to secodary schools is falling. Another challenge lies in the skills for our youth and their employment. Thus, education needs to stick to skills to help youth find jobs, and help them to decide what field of study to pursue. When they graduate they are not employed but investors cannot find the skills they need.
How are you going to improve education in the country?
We will provide more training to teachers. We will improve the quality of the examination process as well. Some students do not study and cheat or bribe to pass. So when we eliminate these cases, students will try harder.
According to the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, the continued neglect of teachers’ rights was making education reform difficult. What do you think about their rights?
We have never limited their rights. As citizens, they have adequate rights including economic, social and political rights. They have freedom to express their opinion like other citizens without any prohibition. The ministry has just established a unit directly under my control which handles complaints from unhappy teachers. Now they can file a complaint directly to the ministry, unlike before when they could only complain at teacher unions. So far, we have received and solved five cases already.
Corruption has been seen to be very problematic in the educational system. Thus, how will you cope with this problem?
Many reforms will work on this including the increase in teachers’ salary to the minimum of 424, 000 Riel (about US$110) in 2014. The value of the exam must also be strengthened based on four principles: policy, justice, transparency and acceptable results. We have eliminated any kinds of cheats or bribery because we have committees observing this issue.
There is only two years left until the ASEAN integration kicks off. Could our students compete with other students from other countries in ASEAN?
Our students are also as competitive as those from ASEAN countries,
especially when our quality of education is better. We also have Khmer students winning in the regional Olympiad examination, for example. But, students must play a role themselves by trying hard and the parents of the students must support and encourage their children to move on.
You moved from the Ministry of Economics and Finance and most of your work experience and academic background relate to economics. Is moving over to education a challenge to you?
Actually, I started working in the ministry in 1979, when that time I worked as a ministry’s youth. I cleaned up many schools including Chaktomuk School before it began its academic year in 1979. Especially in 2000 when I worked in the Ministry of Economics and Finance, I work specifically on the budget reform in education. I have also been a teacher. But, the most important in successful work is persistence.