Instituting school-based support for Cambodia’s early grade teachers

As the Strengthening Teacher Education Programs in Cambodia (STEPCam) starts its third year of implementation, the pivotal role of mentoring to improve instructional practice in the classroom has become clear. Teachers need the opportunity to practice what they have learned in the classroom and receive immediate, constructive feedback from their peers to improve their professional practice.

February 02, 2021 by Ilaria Vanzin, UNESCO
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4 minutes read
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School-based mentors participate in a training on early grade mentoring in Chhlong district. Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh
School-based mentors participate in a training on early grade mentoring in Chhlong district.
Credit: Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh

As the Strengthening Teacher Education Programs in Cambodia (STEPCam) starts its third year of implementation, the pivotal role of mentoring to improve instructional practice in the classroom has become clear.

Drawing upon local and international expertise, STEPCam worked closely with the Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) to develop a school-based early grade learning mentoring model that is contextually appropriate while meeting international quality standards. It balances teachers’ need for frequent and hands-on mentorship with concerns around cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

STEPCam is a three-year initiative jointly implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNESCO with financial support from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the Capacity Development for Education Program (CapED). It aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the early grades.

A school-based early grade mentoring model

It is clear that teacher’s professional development does not stop with training. They need the opportunity to practice what they have learned in the classroom and receive immediate, constructive feedback from their peers to improve their professional practice.

This is especially critical when they are trained on new materials and instructional techniques. STEPCam’s new teaching and learning materials and training packages prepare Grade 1 and 2 teachers on how to improve the quality of teaching Khmer literacy and mathematics with an age-appropriate, inclusive and student-centered approach. Given the significant shift in pedagogy that this represents, teachers need extra support in absorbing and applying the content.

Chanthul Pov, a master mentor from Chhlong district that lies along the Mekong river in Kratie province, shared that one of the main challenges faced by teachers is retention of new content, “They frequently struggle with the flow of lesson content… School-based mentoring can help mentors reinforce the content of the training teachers are provided.” If the mentors are already in the same school as the teacher, there is already a trusted, professional relationship that ensure consistency in support.

A school-based mentor completes an exercise as part of early grade mentoring training
A school-based mentor completes an exercise as part of early grade mentoring training.
Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh
Sineth Prom, a teacher, completes a group exercise during early grade mentoring training
Sineth Prom, a teacher, completes a group exercise during early grade mentoring training
Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh
A master trainer at early grade mentoring training helps answer participant questions
A master trainer at early grade mentoring training helps answer participant questions
Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh
Grade 2 teacher and school-based mentor Sokea Vong
Sokea Vong, Grade 2 teacher and school-based mentor
Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh
Grade 1 teacher and school-based mentor
Sineth Prom, Grade 1 teacher and school-based mentor
Credit: UNESCO Phnom Penh

STEPCam developed the model based on the lessons of previous mentoring models piloted in Cambodia – one that brought in external literacy coaches for frequent school visits, a cluster-based model, and one that utilized government personnel as master mentors.

After consultations among government stakeholders, education personnel and development partners at the national and sub-national level, there was consensus to roll-out a model that was scalable but did not disadvantage more distant schools in a cluster and provided frequent support to teachers at the school-level. This led to the design of a school-based model that brings master mentors recruited from the Provincial or District Office of Education or nearby Teacher Education Institute to train school-based mentors, who can then offer professional development support to their peers.

The master mentors are expected to directly liaise with the school director to help facilitate a positive work environment for the mentor and mentees. The school-based mentors are selected by the District Office of Education and trained locally. Following an annual calendar, they will help their peers improve their classroom instructional practice by regularly observing lessons, providing constructive feedback, facilitating reflection individually and through professional learning communities, and assessing students’ literacy and mathematics through various informal assessment tools. They will be a critical resource for teachers – helping answer their questions about pedagogy, new guides and tools, and building their confidence to implement them.

One school-based mentor is Grade 2 teacher Sokea Vong, who recently participated in STEPCam’s training on Early Grade Mentoring. In addition to her regular teaching responsibilities, Sokea is also a technical team leader for literacy in her school, attending monthly meetings to discuss the curriculum, class schedule and brainstorm strategies for how her peers can address the needs of struggling learners. She will be assuming the role of the school-based mentor in the upcoming school year and is excited about continuing to support her peers - this time with new tools, such as an easy to use observation tool that will make it easy for her to provide structured and constructive feedback to her peers.

A ministry-owned model

STEPCam’s consultative approach has helped ensure that the new mentoring model is anchored in existing MoEYS system and resources, and that its quality is aligned with international standards.

The model directly uses government personnel, helping build MoEYS’s long-term support to teacher’s continuous professional development. The program’s goal is to directly link the model to a continuous professional development credit system currently in development, where both the master mentors and school-based mentors will log credit hours for the time they spend mentoring, which can be rolled over for a qualification upgrade and ultimately, career progression.

The school-based early grade mentoring guidelines are currently being rolled out in STEPCam’s five target provinces in preparation for the new academic year. As Cambodia’s teachers return to school after a tumultuous academic year due to the impact of COVID-19, they will now have a mentor to turn to.

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East Asia and Pacific: Cambodia

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