A FTER four years of intensive study, Ly Leng Mony Keo wonders whether all the hard
work has been worth it.
After graduating with a Bachelor's degree, the promise of better than average pay
as a government teacher in his native Takeo province led to another year at the Faculty
But Mony Keo was given a graduation surprise - his new posting was to be Kratie,
where he is expected to teach without housing or the support of family and friends.
"I will have to ask the monks if I can stay in the pagoda. Maybe the school
director can give me a room, but I have nowhere else to stay.
"When I studied in Phnom Penh, my family gave me 100,000 riels and a small bag
of rice each month," he said, adding that he would be unable to survive in Kratie
without finding a second job.
"The government gave me 12,000 riels [less than $5] for the boat to Kratie,
but a ticket costs 35,000 riels... I think I will have to leave my teaching job and
go back to Phnom Penh."
Mony Keo's story is typical of hundreds of recently graduated teachers which the
government hoped would boost education in provincial Cambodia.
But hope is a poor substitute for proper planning and a realistic assessment of what
can be achieved with limited resources, as Battambang secondary school teacher Ly
La attests: "I always borrow money every month just for food. Right now, to
be a teacher is worthless and I have no means to earn money outside," he said.
"I rarely have breakfast. I want to leave here and go back to Phnom Penh."
According to Ren Rours, vice-deputy of education in Svay Por district Battambang
province, La's experience is the rule rather than the exception.
"Teachers can not survive on their salary [an average 60,000 riels a month].
After two or three years they go back to Phnom Penh. Teacher's parents have to feed
their children and students lose interest in studying when they see how poor their
teachers are," he said.
In 1994 the government introduced a series of financial incentives to attract teachers
to rural areas, boosting their salaries by fifty percent and offering overtime payments
of as much as three dollars an hour.
Late last year, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen promised students graduating from the
University of Phnom Penh, they would be guaranteed jobs as teachers if they spent
an additional year at the Faculty of Pedagogy.
About 1,000 took up the offer, but the scheme to boost education. according to a
well placed Education Ministry source, was doomed to fail from the start.
The source, who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions, said the strategy
to boost teacher numbers "lacked substance and was devised without any consideration
of economic reality."
"The Prime Ministers just listen to what students say they want, promise them
they will get it, then tell the ministry to implement the decision. The funds are
not there - nothing is thought through," he said.
"It's all about political objectives -we just see chaos in education, there
is no sense of budget management, no sense of proportion, no sense of reality,"
the source said.
In addition, graduates claim Ministry officials have told them they will not be paid
until mid 1997, a decision which has forced many to abandon their plans to take up
the teaching profession.
One university graduate, Phany, was offered a position at the Faculty of Pedagogy
but said he will not teach because he has been lucky to find a $200 per month job
with a private company in Phnom Penh.
"I don't want to [teach] because of the low salary and because the job [as a
primary school teacher] is low grade and does not match my ability.
"I want to teach in high school - maybe one day I will, but only if the government
gives me enough salary," Phany said.
Economic reality has also provided marketing opportunities for teaching posts in
Phnom Penh and nearby provinces, further undermining the government's objective of
improving education in more remote areas of Cambodia.
According to Dim Vy, the General Secretary of the Khmer Student Association, most
students at the Faculty of Pedagogy don't want to become teachers because of the
[low] living standard.
"But if they don't teach they will be jobless. If they are chosen to teach in
Phnom Penh, they are lucky because they can teach at a private school or drive a
moto-taxi," Vy said.
Graduates suggest that corrupt officials have been paid by some students at the Department
of Pedagogy, in order to give jobs in or around the capital to those with enough
cash to pay for them.
"Phnom Penh is good because students can find second jobs with private companies
or NGO's," said one.
"Examinations at the Faculty were not fair - some students who never came to
study and were not very bright got very good results... and received good working
places near Phnom Penh," he added.
Others confirmed the trading of teaching posts between students for anything between
$100 and $800.
"I have changed my post with a friend [after] I gave him some money, said one
graduate teacher who swapped a Kompong Cham post for one in his native Kandal.
"I am happy now," he said