Cambodia: Better teachers produce better students

Chhay Kimsak, a teacher at Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District, is one of the beneficiaries of GPE’s support through STEPCam.
Audio file

Story highlights

  • Even with improved access to education, Cambodia still struggles with high dropout rates, low teaching quality and poor learning outcomes.
  • GPE, UNESCO, UNICEF and USAID have joined forces to help Cambodia transform its education system.
  • With a strengthened teaching force and a focus on the most vulnerable students, more children are getting a quality education.
Map of Cambodia

This story was written in collaboration with UNESCO Cambodia.

Chhay Kimsak, Teacher, Chambak Haer Primary School
“My childhood dream was to become a teacher. I wanted to help children to acquire knowledge that would enable them to get a good job so that they could help their family and society.“
Chhay Kimsak
Teacher, Chambok Haer Primary School

Chhay Kimsak is one of the beneficiaries of the Strengthening Teacher Education Programs in Cambodia (STEPCam). Supported by GPE and implemented by UNESCO, STEPCam aims to improve children’s learning by improving the quality of teaching.

  • Chhay Kimsak teaches her Grade one class to read Khmer script at Chambok Haer Primary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • Chhay Kimsak interacts with her Grade 1 students at Chambok Haer Primary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • Teacher Chhay Kimsak sits in her classroom at Chambok Haer Primary School in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

Well-prepared, qualified, motivated teachers who continue to develop professionally are the strongest factor in improving student learning.

Teacher trainee, Preah Vihear Provincial Teacher Training Center.
“Teachers help build the country… I aim to transfer my knowledge to the children in my hometown, to help them to love learning and work, and to have good manners.”

Sa Lina
Teacher trainee, Preah Vihear Provincial Teacher Training Center

Even though access to education has increased significantly in the last decade, Cambodia still struggles with high dropout rates and low-quality teaching and learning. The availability of well-trained and supported teachers remains a critical issue.

STEPCam: One of the largest teacher education programs

The current GPE grant of US$14.4 million is the third consecutive implementation grant to Cambodia since 2008. The grant funds STEPCam—one of the largest teacher education programs to support the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the early grades.

The program focuses on 4 components:

  • Implementation of systems that support continuous professional development
  • In-service training and mentoring for early grade teachers in Khmer and Mathematics
  • Renovation of 11 provincial teacher training centers (PTTCs)
  • Upgrading the qualifications of PTTC trainers.

A new approach to teachers’ professional development

In Cambodia, teachers have had scant opportunities for continued professional growth in the past. Thanks to STEPCam, Cambodia now has a platform for institutionalized in-service teacher training and professional development.

El Ang, Principal, Chambok Haer Primary School
“Continuous professional development enhances the profession by upgrading
teachers’ qualifications.”

El Ang
Principal, Chambok Haer Primary School

Over 6,500 mentors, school directors, and education staff have been trained to support teachers in continuous professional development and transformative pedagogy.

The new continuous professional development system represents a shift from the short-term projects in the past towards an institutionalized and ministry-owned approach. The investments from STEPCam ensure that the ministry has both the capacity and commitment to manage the system and shape effective policies for teachers’ professional development in the longer term.

  • Sa Lina, a trainee teacher at Preah Vihear Teacher Trainer Center, works on her studies in Preah Vihear, Cambodia. The center was recently upgraded thanks to STEPCam.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

Chhay Kimsak feels more confident after receiving further training:

Chhay KimSak, Teacher, Chambak Haer Primary School
“Continuous professional development helps improve my teaching, through obtaining new skills and peer exchange of experiences.”

Chhay Kimsak
Teacher, Chambok Haer Primary School

In parallel, the Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS)—which manages data relevant to education sector employees’ professional development and career progression—has been upgraded and deployed online.

Education staff can now verify the accuracy of their profiles, enroll in training programs and check the credits earned.

This system can improve efficiency by supporting teacher deployment. As of October 2022, over 70,000 teachers and education staff have registered on the HRMIS mobile app.

  • Chhay Kimsak checks her staff profile data and CPD credits recorded in the HRMIS through a mobile app while sitting in her classroom at Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

Improving learning for the youngest students

To support the implementation of the national early grade learning program, Komar Rien Komar Cheh, STEPCam provided technical assistance to the ministry to develop a set of interactive, play-based teaching and learning materials to make learning mathematics more fun and accessible. As part of the rollout, training was provided to teachers, with a mentoring system established to provide regular professional support.

In addition, STEPCam supported the rollout of early grade Khmer reading packages, first piloted by the ministry in partnership with USAID, to five additional provinces by providing learning materials, training and mentoring to teachers.

  • Students arrive for morning lessons at Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • Grade 1 students come up to the front of the class to show their drawings to their classmates during a lesson at Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • Ee Lykay, 6 years old, practices Khmer script during a class in Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

4,000 primary school teachers have been trained in early grade Khmer and 3,000 in early grade math. Over 2,300 teacher mentors have been trained to provide ongoing professional support to early grade teachers.

Chhay Kimsak, Teacher, Chambok Haer Primary School
“My teaching mentor helped me a lot. He taught me the methodologies
I lacked, which helps fill the gaps in my class activities.”

Chhay Kimsak
Teacher, Chambok Haer Primary School

Development partners—including UNICEF and VVOB—have committed resources to support the ministry in scaling the rollout of teaching and learning materials in other areas of Cambodia over the next academic years. Over 131,000 students are expected to benefit from this intervention.

Chhay KimSak, Teacher, Chambak Haer Primary School
“I have noticed that my students have changed. They are happy to learn and are no longer afraid to come to school because we have learning games and methodologies that draw their attention.”

Chhay Kimsak
Teacher, Chambak Haer Primary School
  • School supplies for a Grade 1 class are laid out on a table at Chambok Haer Primary School, Puok District, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

In addition, STEPCam developed a student tracking system to record data such as learning outcomes, dropout rates, gender, disability and scholarships. The system also stores limited attendance data that can generate valuable reports at school, district and provincial levels.

The system can facilitate child tracking functions such as identification of learners who are falling behind or at risk of dropping out so that preventive actions can be taken. The development and pilot of this tracking method is an important step towards ensuring inclusion and equity in the education system.

The system is being piloted in 132 schools in Siem Reap with all schools reporting data on students, attendance and grades. Currently, data for over 33,700 students have been captured.

With GPE’s support, teacher educator competencies have also been upgraded—STEPCam helped develop a Bachelor of Education degree for teacher educators, with the first cohort of teacher educators completing the degree with 100% success rate.

Renovated teacher training centers

Eleven provincial teacher training centers have been renovated with GPE funding. In addition to upgrades to facilities such as dormitories and toilets, all the centers were stocked with libraries, research computers, and science laboratories, and had lighting and air conditioning installed. The new PTTCs not only create better conditions for teacher educators and trainees, but also play a key role in attracting qualified and competent candidates to join the profession.

249 teacher educators and 1,277 primary school teachers will benefit from the infrastructure improvements annually.

Recognizing the importance of digital learning, the GPE program supported the installation of high-speed Wi-Fi services at the 11 PTTCs. The intervention contributes further to the digitalization of education and building a more resilient education system in Cambodia.

Additionally, 114 directors completed a training program designed by STEPCam to build management capacity to support ongoing maintenance of the improved infrastructure.

Prom Sopheany, Teacher trainer, Preah Vihear PTTC
“The renovated teacher training centers help elevate the status of the profession.”

Prom Sopheany
Teacher trainer, Preah Vihear PTTC
  • The entrance of the Provincial Teacher Training College on Preah Vihear, Cambodia, supported by STEPCam.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • The entrance of the Provincial Teacher Training College in Preah Vihear, Cambodia, recently upgraded thanks to STEPCam.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

  • Trainees take part in a science experiment during their class at Preah Vihear Provincial Teacher Training College in Preah Vihear, Cambodia.
    Credit: GPE/Roun Ry

A focus on the most vulnerable children

Even the greatest teacher can’t deliver if students are not present in the classroom. A GPE grant of US$6.2 million implemented by UNICEF complements STEPCam’s interventions by supporting staff training in the Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS) in provinces beyond STEPCam-targeted areas, and by printing the four student workbooks for all Grade 1 and 2 children.

In addition, this grant will support the roll out of Grade 2 Mathematics in 2022–23 in the provinces where rollout for Grade 1 Mathematics has been completed, benefiting an additional 31,200 Grade 2 students.

Efforts to improve sustainability

Several development partners provide financial support to scale up a number of interventions developed by STEPCam. In parallel, at a GPE 2025 Task Force meeting in June 2022, three policy priorities—gender, quality teaching, and learning—were identified and endorsed. The endorsement reaffirms the commitment of the ministry, UNESCO and other partners to prioritize teacher development and quality teaching and learning.

GPE along with UNICEF and UNESCO have supported the MoEYS to develop transformative systems to improve the quality of the teaching workforce. Now more teachers will have the skills they need to improve the quality of education in Cambodia.

October 2022