Many provincial classrooms will sit empty for the second time this year as teachers are called upon to help register voters for the upcoming elections, education officials say.
“We have allowed teachers to postpone their public school affairs to assist the National Election Committee as [the NEC] has proposed,” said Education Ministry Secretary of State Kea Sahorn. “Teaching is necessary. But the elections are necessary, too.”
It’s second time this year that schools, especially in remote provinces, will be disrupted as teachers are called away for national service. The census effectively closed schools in early March for 12 days as many teachers worked as enumerators.
Kea Sahorn said the elections, combined with the census, will cause some of schools to only complete 70 percent of their school year.
Particularly hard hit will be remote provinces such as Koh Kong, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Stung Treng, where there are already shortages of teachers, Kea Sahorn said. Schools in Phnom Penh are not expected to be affected.
Teachers are being recruited for voter registration because they are a literate workforce, Kea Sahorn said.
Teachers in the remote provinces participating in the eight-day registration period from today through May 23 will be paid $18, while those in other provinces will receive $14, according to election spokesman Leng Sochea. Teachers’ salaries average about $30 a month.
When possible, classes will be combined, especially for seniors in high school with important examinations at the end of the year. The ministry is requesting funding for overtime pay for teachers who stay on and teach combined classes, Kea Sahorn said.
Brian Smith, program director for Save the Children-UK, which works with public schools in Kratie province, said the two disruptions are discouraging.
“On one hand, I’m really disappointed,” he said. “The future of Cambodia is in the education of its young people, so I think they’re handicapping a very important public service.”
On the other hand, Smith said, there is logic in hiring teachers who are educated and know the communities.
“There’s lots of people [in the provinces] looking for work, but would they be able to do the registration?” Smith added.
Mao Chong, vice director of the Kratie Education Department, said priority will be given to senior-level classes where students are facing crucial year-end exams.
But many classes will be closed altogether for several days, and some teachers will be working for the NEC until August, he said.
Education administrators in less-remote provinces also said this week that classroom time will be greatly diminished.
Khon Malea, an administrator for the Kompong Speu Education Department, said the quality of education will decline as classes are combined due to the shortage.