Tens of thousands of teachers are expected to walk out of classrooms this month and take jobs working as officials in commune elections, campaigning for which begins today, says the National Election Committee.
According to Mom Soth, a director of training with the NEC, there are more than 116,000 jobs available, manning polling stations and election offices. An estimated 55 per cent of them will be filled by teachers, he said.
However, if NEC figures are correct, more than 60,000 teachers will be working on the election, some for a few months. By comparison, the Ministry of Education employed a total of about 94,000 teachers for the 2006-2007 school year, leading some to wonder whether Cambodia’s educational system has the teachers to spare.
“If the NEC will try to take out teachers for a number of months, then of course it will affect the education of the students,” said Eang Vuthy, a program manager for Bridges Across Borders, an NGO that deals with education advocacy.
“In Cambodia, we have a huge number of students in classrooms.”
Mak Vann, a secretary of state with the Ministry of Education, said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the matter, but that teachers’ contributions to free elections were important, and their absences wouldn’t seriously impede student’s learning.
“The classes are not closed,” he said. “The classes will still run; [we] have plenty of replacement teachers.”
“Otherwise, who is able to do these jobs?” he asked, noting that teachers are often the most qualified candidates in rural areas.
UNESCO statistics show that Cambodia has nearly 50 primary school students for every teacher, a figure more than twice as high as neighbouring Vietnam’s, and three times as high as that of the United States.
Theoretically, a smaller ratio of students to teachers, UNESCO materials say, “enables the teacher to pay more attention to individual students, which may in the long run result in a better performance of the pupils”.
According to Eang Vuthy, now is an especially poor time for teachers to be leaving their posts.
“In a few months, there will be high school exams, and normally, students need an extra class to prepare for the exam,” he said. “But if the teachers are going to work for the NEC, then it will affect schools and students.”
“This is not a good idea,” he added.
Tep Nytha, secretary general of the NEC, says that overall demand for qualified election workers has grown, but teachers aren’t specifically targeted for recruitment.
“The recruitment is open for the public to apply, not just teachers, but mainly teachers have the abilities to work for the NEC,” he said. “And when they work for the NEC, they have to ask permission from their respective institutions, but the NEC isn’t involved in that.”