NGO seeks to bring critical thinking to the classroom

NGO seeks to bring critical thinking to the classroom

Nearly two years after the government launched a training program for Cambodian teachers, schools in Siem Reap have shown few improvements, said Andrea Messmer, general manager of the NGO Schools for Children of Cambodia.

"One of the main reasons education is poor in Siem Reap is that there's still very little training for teachers," Messmer said.

The government training scheme has proved unsatisfactory because it only applies to new teachers, Messmer said, leaving most current teachers and their ineffective teaching practices unchanged.

Additionally, the training is watered down by a Chinese whispers-like teaching method, which involves the Ministry of Education training the Provincial Department of Education, which trains the District Office of Education, which trains a cluster school, which trains teachers at individual schools.

Finally, the teachers are being trained in what Messmer calls a rote-style system that discourages critical thinking.

"If you walk into the average classroom, you will see a teacher reading from a book and students repeating what was read," Messmer said.

"Students don't get a chance to learn from each other or interact."

To address the shortcomings of the Siem Reap education system, Schools for Children of Cambodia has recently trained 53 teachers, school directors and deputy directors from four area primary schools.

To make sure the program was effective, Messmer said the NGO partnered with the government-run Teacher Training College and sought insight from communities.

"We're big on community involvement and using their ideas, not our ideas. It might take a little longer, but it gets the community involved in education," she said.

The teachers and directors attended two weekend sessions in February and March, where they were taught in what Messmer said is a more participatory, engaged style of pedagogy that attempts to stimulate discussion among students.

The NGO will follow up the training program in May, sending classroom monitors to evaluate the new teaching methods and identify additional areas where support is needed.

In the long term, Messmer hopes that Schools for Children of Cambodia will change a negative attitude toward education that is common in rural Siem Reap.

"Many parents are undervaluing education," she said.

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