Two Tuol Kork Primary School teachers who taught students with special needs tendered their resignation, citing low salaries and not being recognised by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport as the reasons.

Their resignations have prompted fears that pupils will face a shortage of qualified teachers.

The primary school has collaborated with the Rabbit School Organisation since 2008 to operate the Kingdom’s first integrated classes for children and adults between five and 25 years with Down’s syndrome, autism and other learning impairments.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Rabbit School Organisation employee told The Post on Monday that among the integrated class teachers, five were in the official state framework while nine others were Rabbit School Organisation employees who drew salaries from the organisation.

Of the nine teachers, two had formally submitted their resignation in December because they had been enduring low wages for several years and were not entered into the formal state framework which would allow them to draw nearly twice the salary.

“Teaching autistic children is more difficult and tiring than teaching other students. Instructors teach twice a day – morning and evening – but they draw salaries of 560,000 riel to 640,000 riel ($140 to $160) from [the Rabbit School Organisation],” the employee said, adding that students in the integrated classes face an immediate and short-term shortage of teachers.

A total of 182 mentally disabled children were taught by 14 teachers.

“We received letters of resignation from only two teachers but the patience of the others remains limited. I don’t know how many teachers have run out of patience waiting for support from the state,” the employee said.

The employee told The Post that the Rabbit School Organisation in 2018 submitted paperwork to Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron requesting that nine instructors and one volunteer teacher be admitted into the state framework, but the ministry only approved them as term-based contractual teachers.

The employee said the Phnom Penh Department of Education had informed the Rabbit Organisation that Tuol Kork Primary School’s headmaster was required to file the request on the teacher’s behalf instead of the organisation.

“A new request was submitted to the Department of Education, Youth and Sport through the school’s headmaster and it forwarded the letter to the Department of Civil Service for review.

“I received information on Friday that the headmaster of Tuol Kork Primary School went to the Department of Civil Service to defend his request.

“The [department] is yet to answer with a ‘yes’ because it must be considered further, despite already having the seal of approval from the [ministry],” the employee said.

Krai Sok Kanha, whose six-year-old autistic son studies at Tuol Kork Primary School, said that fellow parents were concerned regarding the shortage of teachers.

“We are disappointed because teachers have resigned. We don’t know where to go. We only leave our children at home because they cannot be sent to private schools.

“The teachers should have been given more attention and paid higher salaries because they teach the children with love and want to help them. As far as we know, many teachers remain in state schools, but they don’t come here to teach our children,” she said.

Sok Kanha called on Chuon Naron and Prime Minister Hun Sen to find new teachers to replace the employees who tendered their resignations.

Phnom Penh Department of Education director Hem Sinareth said 10 integrated class teachers were approved to teach within the state framework as contractual teachers but they still need approval from the Department of Civil Service.

“The department approves contracts we can use. When it approves them, [the department] can decide whether to transfer funds for salaries,” he said.

Sinareth said prospective teachers would have to sit for examinations before being admitted into the state framework, adding that it was the Rabbit School Organisation’s responsibility to find replacement teachers for the integrated classes.

Heang Sokhunthea, one of the teachers to tendered their resignation, said she had taught 28 students divided into two classes and drew a monthly salary of $160 from the Rabbit School Organisation.

The four-year teaching veteran noted that her salary was almost half of that drawn by teachers under the state framework who only teach one class a day.

“This work is exhausting and the salary is low, I can’t accept it,” the 33-year-old said.

Meach Sounan, who also submitted her resignation, told The Post: “I liked working for the organisation. I never considered demanding an income from the state but I can’t support my family, so I must find a new job,” she said.