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Pay too low: teachers

People hold banners and signs as they march past Wat Botum
People hold banners and signs as they march past Wat Botum yesterday in Phnom Penh during a demonstration as part of World Teachers Day. Vireak Mai

Pay too low: teachers

Dissatisfied with recent minimal wage hikes, teachers gathered in the capital yesterday to mark World Teachers Day with a long-reiterated demand: salaries commensurate with living expenses.

The teachers’ petition-delivering march was met by hundreds of armed policemen blocking off the prime minister’s house and the Ministry of Education, though emissaries from the group were permitted to submit the document to both locations. The protesters repeated their plea for $250 a month through loud speakers and chants in Wat Botum Park.

“I cannot afford to live on a teacher’s wage. If I did not also work as a moto driver, my family would not survive; there would not be enough money for us to eat,” said Doung Socheattra, a Kampong Chhnang High School math teacher who earns 500,000 riel (about $125) per month and 2,600 riel (about $0.60) per extra hour taught.

More than two-thirds of the nation’s public school teachers have to take on a second job to pay their bills, an independent study last year found. As a result, many have to skip classes, mark papers late or cut lesson planning short.

“About 20 per cent of my classes I have to miss so that I can work in the market. It’s not good for the students, but what choice do I have?” said Tea Chumrath, a lower secondary school teacher in Pursat.

Chumrath, whose husband is also a teacher, said she has to borrow $500 from the bank every year in order to feed, clothe and send her own five kids to school.

“Every year we ask for a better salary and usually [the Education Ministry] says there’s not enough budget,” she said.

Education spending is set to increase from 16 to 20 per cent of the national budget next year, but teachers yesterday said the corresponding raises announced last month are still too little.

In the upcoming school year, teachers will make between 550,000 riel (about $138) and 800,000 riel (about $200) depending on their experience level and what grades they teach. Further raises for all civil servants are expected to be announced in December, according to the education minister.

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