Yim Sina struggles to get by as a teacher at Sothearos Primary School. He can’t afford to feed his wife and infant daughter on his 110,000 riel (about $28) monthly salary, so like many teachers he resorts to teaching private classes after school, an avocation he calls “shameful.”
But now a Ministry of Education directive suggests he may have to move to another commune, district or even province to redress an imbalance between the number of teachers in urban, rural and remote areas. For Yim Sina, who lives under his parents’ roof to save money, that might mean a very long commute, or a move to an area without private classes.
“If they moved me to another school, I would drive a motorcycle taxi rather than going far from my family,” he said.
The teacher shortage means that students in rural and remote areas get less attention from educators, government statistics show. Urban schools have one teacher for every 32 students, while rural schools have one teacher for every 46 students. Remote areas must cope with one teacher for every 55 students.
Rural and remote students are more likely to drop out of school or repeat grades, statistics show. The NGO Save the Children Norway reports that remote areas often lack schools entirely.
The June 10 directive suggests that a large number of teachers will be asked to move once again to address the imbalance. Teachers will be paid 300,000 riel (about $76) to 1.5 million riel ($382) for moving expenses, depending on the distance they must move, it states.
Thong Borann, director of the Ministry of Education’s personnel department, said the directive is just for teachers’ information and won’t be implemented until a new subdecree is passed. But the directive has already garnered opposition from one teachers’ union, which submitted a petition last week from Phnom Penh teachers to the ministry.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said teachers should not be forced to move. He said the original imbalance was caused because education officials accepted bribes from teachers who wanted to move to wealthier urban areas. Under the current system, teachers are assigned to communities after attending teaching school.
“The reason some schools are overloaded [with teachers] is because of errors and corruption on the part of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,” he said.
Education officials say the directive is designed to minimize the burden on teachers. It says that teachers with no family, no set duty and less seniority are more likely to be reassigned.
It is unclear, however, how many teachers will have to move. Svay Phalla, deputy director of Kompong Cham’s education department, said his province needs 2,000 to 3,000 primary teachers. The province gained 20,000 first grade students alone this school year since the government stopped collecting registration fees from students, Svay Phalla said. To cope with the increased demand, the department is asking teachers to teach extra classes, or hiring contract teachers, he said.
Yim Sina worried that the moving allowance would not be enough if his family was forced to move. But a higher salary would make teachers much happier with the move, he said.
“We can go wherever they assign us if they give us enough to live, about $150 a month,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Richard Sine)