Less than a week away from the start of the new school year, the government is short on teachers.
Every year, the government struggles to recruit enough instructors to keep pace with enrolment rates and replace those who have retired, left teaching or passed away. The shortage is particularly acute at the primary school level, where the average student-to-teacher ratio ranks worse than any country outside of Africa.
This year, just 4,739 new recruits are slated to join the public school ranks, shy of both the Education Ministry’s goals and international standards.
In order to ensure teachers are not overwhelmed, UNESCO recommends the ratio of students to teachers be kept at 40 to one or below. But in Cambodia’s primary schools, the average is 46.2 students for every teacher, with some provinces exceeding 62 students in a class managed by a single instructor, government data shows.
To amend the student-to-teacher ratio, the ministry would need an additional 6,950 primary school teachers. And to make up for the teachers estimated to retire, resign and pass away annually, the ministry also requires 3,120 new teachers. The recruited number is less than half the needed amount.
“We acknowledge that we have some issues with the number of teachers, especially in the remote areas, and we are working to fix that,” said Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin, adding that bulking up the number of instructors is a secondary concern.
“We need to first prioritise remobilisation so that we do not continue to have too many teachers in some places and a shortage in others,” he said.
In addition to providing monetary subsidies to encourage teachers to accept placements in more remote areas, the ministry is also considering building teachers’ houses.
But teaching, perceived as a chronically underpaid and underappreciated profession, is not a particularly attractive job option in any location, according to the NGO Education Partnership.
“[Graduates] don’t want to become teachers because they see that their schools aren’t working very well; the teachers lack resources and support,” said Colin Anderson, a technical adviser at the partnership.
Educators’ extremely low wages, especially at the primary level, keep would-be teachers vying for more money elsewhere.
“I think teaching is not seen as a desirable profession while we continue to have a low salary, but the cost of [living expenses] is very high,” said Pot Sareoun, a principal and primary school teacher in Phnom Prek district, Battambang, where he has 50 students per class.
“It is so hard for us to teach so many students in one class . . . but we will try to do it as best we can. I hope the ministry recruits more [teachers], and I hope they will send them to our school, too,” he said.