Monirath Siv first saw the urgent need for a pipeline of qualified and committed teachers in Cambodia when he became aware of a “learning crisis” that could impact the country’s development, especially given its disproportionately young population.
Now, after three years of planning, that pipeline is set to open following the Friday launch of Siv’s independent organisation, Teach for Cambodia, which aims to train teachers to become future educational leaders. “Primary and secondary education is high-stakes,” he said.
As Siv sees it, the crisis stems from various contributing factors, such as socioeconomic challenges, a persistent teacher shortage, substandard teaching quality and poor school leadership.
And unlike Singapore, which Siv says has shown commitment to making education a priority, Cambodia is not sending its brightest into the education sector. It’s estimated that more than 75,000 teachers have qualifications that fall short of a bachelor’s degree equivalency, according to the ministry’s Teacher Policy Action Plan. And more than 80 percent of teacher trainees have a grade-12 exam score of D or E – barely passing.
“We know that education is so important for everyone,” Siv said. “We know it’s a problem, but we are not sending our best up against that problem.”
To help change that, Teach for Cambodia on Friday began to accept applications and will be recruiting at university campuses for 30 highly committed Cambodian professionals under the age of 35 to be a part of a two-year paid fellowship.
Fellows will be deployed to 10 to 15 urban-poor schools in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Cham beginning in November 2018, and will receive a monthly salary of $300 – about $50 more than the government’s projected baseline salary for teachers and civil servants.
The fellows will be paired with a coach, and will receive ongoing professional development. After their first teaching year, they will also be required to complete an internship or a community project addressing local needs.
“Being a teacher in a class is not just a job,” Siv said. “It’s a real calling.”
On the sidelines of Friday’s launch ceremony, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron acknowledged “a shortage of teachers, especially those who are well-trained and those who teach in the remote areas”.
The imbalance is greatest at the primary level, and as a result only about 30 percent of students who enrol in primary school go on to graduate from high school, he said.
Teach for Cambodia hopes to increase the number of fellows by 15 to 20 percent each year. Within five years, it hopes to expand from three to five provinces, with the aim of eventually operating nationwide to serve the remote areas as well.
But there’s still a long way to go for the ministry to overcome the problem it is currently facing.
Chin Chanveasna, executive director of NGO Education Partnership, said the ministry needs about 13,000 teachers to address the teacher shortage at the primary level, according to the latest estimates.
Currently, some primary school classrooms hold more than 100 students. “Bringing [the ratio] down to around 40 to 45 [per teacher] would be perfect,” he said.
But hiring those teachers won’t be easy – or cheap. “It requires money,” he said, adding that he didn’t foresee sufficient funding being made available anytime soon.