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Overcrowding plagues Kingdom's classrooms

Children ride home after school in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district last year. Teachers from Hun Sen Anlong Veng Primary School say that overcrowded classes are affecting teaching quality.
Children ride home after school in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district last year. Teachers from Hun Sen Anlong Veng Primary School say that overcrowded classes are affecting teaching quality. Heng Chivoan

Overcrowding plagues Kingdom's classrooms

A primary school teacher’s complaint this week that his class numbers nearly 70 students in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng town has shed light on the broader issue of overcrowding in the Kingdom’s rural schools.

The Ministry of Education acknowledges a severe shortfall of teachers, and has tried to cap class sizes at 50 students, a figure that teacher representatives say is already too high, but a district official in Anlong Veng yesterday maintained that the recent complaints were simply ploys by teachers seeking more pay.

Nhorn Sarun, a grade 1 teacher at the Hun Sen Anlong Veng Primary School, says a typical classroom should have 30 to 35 students, but “in reality there are 66 students in my class”.

Sarun said he had appealed to the school principal as well as the district’s education department, but his complaints went unanswered.

“It is hard to control and to follow up on students’ studying,” he said.

A grade 4 teacher from the same school, Mao Mean, said the real difficulty is maintaining teaching quality.

“In my class, there are 54 students . . . but I found out that 14 students could not read well,” he said, adding that with so many students, he can’t offer those lagging behind the extra help they need.

Mean said he too had complained to the principal, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Anlong Veng district educational department director Nhean Ton, however, maintained that teachers “make up the complaints in order to [have] two sections [of] teaching per day for more salary”.

Ton said that measures were now in the works to reduce class sizes to between 45 and 61 students per teacher in the district – as the budget allows – but the teachers yesterday said that they had heard of no such plan.

Ton went on to blame the large classes on a general lack of teachers in remote areas.

According to the acting president of union the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association (CITA), Ouk Chhayavy, some 60 per cent of the Kingdom’s classrooms are overcrowded.

“It should be 23 to 30 student[s] per class,” which she said was standard in neighbouring Thailand.

Chan Sophea, general director of the Education Ministry’s primary school department, said the policy sets 50 students per class as a limit, but it is up to the provincial authorities to resolve overcrowding with school principals.

Currently, however, far more teachers are needed, Sophea said – some 20,000 more, on top of the current 50,000 – and that the ministry tries to “motivate teachers to teach in remote areas by providing places to live”.

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