As the Education Ministry takes incremental steps to clean up the school system, more than 100 teachers rallied at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Monday to call on the government to increase wages as it attempts to stem bribery in the classroom.
Led by the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), the teachers called for a base salary of at least $375 a month, standard overtime pay and additional bonuses. The current minimum wage for teachers is $162.50.
Ouk Chhayavy, CITA’s acting chief, said that teachers taking part in the rally, which was held to mark World Teacher’s Day, wanted the government to prioritize their livelihoods as it works to improve one of the region’s worst education systems.
“If the Ministry of Education wants their education reform to be successful, they should address teacher salaries first so teachers will work hard and make sure corruption doesn’t happen,” she said.
Men Sothey, a teacher at Preah Monivong High School in Battambang province who attended the rally, said corruption in schools would only stop if teachers were able to make a decent living from their state salaries.
“Teachers are not happy when students come to school only to give money for participation,” he said. “But when the salary is low, how can you expect teachers not to take bribes?”
The rally at Freedom Park was significantly smaller than last year’s event to mark World Teacher’s Day, when more than 300 educators turned out to call for an increase to what was then a $137.50 minimum wage.
Unesco released a report Monday on the situation for teachers in eight Asia-Pacific countries, noting that those in Cambodia have a particularly weak collective voice and limited ability to effect change.
“In Cambodia, teachers, as civil servants, are forbidden by law from joining a union,” the report notes, adding that CITA remains the most prominent association of educators in the country.
“Although membership of this association is growing, it is small, with very limited powers,” it adds.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)