Celebrating Cambodian teachers’ resilience for World Teachers' Day

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of teachers as essential workers has become clear. Cambodia’s teachers are stepping up to the task while navigating the challenge of homeschooling their own children and the social and economic pressures brought on by COVID-19.

October 07, 2020 by Maryam Jillani, UNESCO Phnom Office
5 minutes read
The STEPCam program targets teachers teaching Khmer literacy. Credit: UNESCO Cambodia
The STEPCam program targets teachers teaching Khmer literacy
UNESCO Cambodia

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of teachers as essential workers has become clear. We celebrate World Teachers’ Day keeping in mind this year’s international theme, “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future” and Cambodia’s national theme, “Smart teachers for digital education”.

After school closures that affected more than 1.5 billion learners at the height of the pandemic, teachers had to work individually and collectively to find solutions with limited resources in unprecedented circumstances.

Adapting quickly to remote learning

In Cambodia, where the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) launched a continuous learning program immediately following school closures in March, teachers had to become resourceful. With limited access to the Internet, they had to improvise – teach students in small groups, pass out weekly worksheets and conduct at-home monitoring visits.

In response to the need for guidance by teachers on how to adapt to these new circumstances, MoEYS developed a set of guidelines that outlined the roles and responsibilities of teachers, and directives on distance learning, which included directions on how to establish online learning groups with students and caregivers; how to access the newly developed continuous learning programs; and how to develop paper-based learning materials.

While MoEYS, like many other ministries in Cambodia, has suffered from budget cuts as an economic fallout of COVID-19, they were able to retain and continue to pay their public school teachers. They however, were unable to retain many contract teachers.

Subsequently, within a short period of time and fewer resources, Cambodia’s teachers had to familiarize themselves with new technologies and incorporate unfamiliar distance learning instructional techniques into their practice. They set up online learning groups with their students on social media platforms, developed a variety of paper-based materials and assessment tools; and regularly followed up with students remotely and in-person on how to access the new e-learning resources.

Early grade teachers with large classrooms especially felt the pressure of this new modality as they worked to break large number of students into small groups that required additional time, materials and in-person monitoring.

As all schools begin to prepare to reopen in Cambodia in November, teachers are now getting ready to adopt MoEYS’s new school reopening guidelines. They require implementation of the national curriculum through a small-scale blended learning approach, that is a combination of staggered face-to-face learning, e-learning through television, Facebook and MoEYS’s learning platform, and conventional distance learning methods such as development and distribution of worksheets and summary lessons.

Cambodia’s teachers are certainly stepping up to the task while navigating the challenge of homeschooling their own children and the social and economic pressures brought on by COVID-19. This year’s theme of teachers leading in crisis truly brings to attention the remarkable role teachers have played in Cambodia and across the globe.

Cambodian teachers faced challenges before COVID-19

In many ways, the past few months brought to the forefront challenges faced by Cambodia’s teachers long before the pandemic. The Royal Government of Cambodia recognizes that teachers hold the key to developing human capital and leading the country’s transformation to an upper middle-income country by 2030. It’s one of the reasons that the implementation of its Teacher Policy Action Plan that sets out a new vision for the teaching profession in Cambodia is one of the leading pillars of the ministry’s reforms.

With financial support from the Global Partnership for Education, the Strengthening Teacher Education Programs in Cambodia (STEPCam), an initiative implemented by MoEYS with UNESCO as the grant agent, aims to enhance the competencies of early grade teachers to lay a strong foundation for the overall quality of education in Cambodia.

A teacher supported through STEPCam. Credit: UNESCO Cambodia
A teacher supported through STEPCam
UNESCO Cambodia

Sustainable Development Goal 4 recognizes teachers as the key to the achievement of the 2030 Education Agenda. MoEYS also states that a highly qualified and motivated teacher workforce is a key factor in improving the quality of teaching and learning.

While the country has made significant progress towards achieving near universal enrollment, it still lags behind in learning outcomes and student dropout rates, both of which can be significantly improved if Cambodia’s teachers receive additional training, mentorship and support.

STEPCam specifically addresses teacher issues

MoEYS has taken several initiatives to support teachers and improve equity such as regular wage increases, provision of incentives to work in rural and remote schools and institution of policies such as Teacher Policy and its Teacher Policy Action Plan.

Cambodia’s teachers can benefit even more from continuous implementation of this plan and development of new systems such as the Continuous Professional Development and Teacher Career Pathway Framework, and better teaching and learning conditions.

The challenges that Cambodia’s teachers face are exacerbated by the fact that, like elsewhere in the world, teachers and teacher leadership at large do not receive adequate attention, and gaps in the areas of compensation and career progression persist.

MoEYS is addressing these challenges through STEPCam, which integrates a multi-tiered strategy to support teachers and teacher educators at all levels. Through significant inter-ministerial and department coordination and collaboration, STEPCam develops and implements a comprehensive Continuous Professional Development (CPD) management system.

The CPD management system comprises the development of a CPD credit acquisition system and the finalization of a critical Teacher Career Pathways (TCP) framework. This aims to motivate and support teachers, school directors and education specialists in professional development, career progression, and social recognition, with the ultimate goal of creating a culture of lifelong learning within Cambodia’s education system.

The TCP framework does this through the establishment of three professional tracks – teaching, leadership and education specialist – and institution of mechanisms and guidelines on how to grow within each of these three tracks, such as an annual appraisal process and a ‘high-stakes’ TCP appraisal.

STEPCam is further linking this to the development of an improved Human Resource Management Information System that can be used as a dynamic, day-to-day tool for more efficient teacher recruitment, deployment, professional development, and promotion.

The path to ensuring that Cambodia’s teachers receive the support and resources they need to succeed is a long but critical one. World Teachers’ Day, particularly within the context of COVID-19, provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the enormous leadership role Cambodia’s teachers played during the crisis and reiterate our commitment to support Cambodia’s teachers and teacher leadership.

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Teaching quality
East Asia and Pacific: Cambodia

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