Ministry Will Conduct Unannounced Inspections of Schools

The Education Ministry will conduct random and unannounced inspections of schools across the country, targeting “low-hanging fruit” in its ongoing bid to clean up the education system, the minister said Tuesday.

Speaking at a workshop on education reforms at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said that the new system of inspections would give him a better idea of the situation on the ground, where claims of bribery, corruption and substandard teaching persist.

“We have introduced a program: It is inspectors who go, without announcing in advance, to observe and evaluate teachers to see whether they are competent and if they teach regularly, and to see if the director of the school is working or not,” Mr. Chuon Naron said.

The education minister did not reveal when or where the inspections would begin, but said they would address many of the issues raised by participants at Tuesday’s workshop—most of them teachers—such as staff absenteeism, abusive school directors, overloaded classes and swollen payrolls.

“Our inspections aim to look in detail at each school and address the real problems,” he said. “It is a lot, our vision, it requires a lot of resources and people.”

During a wave of political activism following the 2013 national election, the country’s largest teachers’ association called for higher wages and threatened street protests that never eventuated. However, in August, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an increase in the minimum salary of the nation’s educators—from $105 to $138 over three stages, the last of which was slated to take effect today.

At Tuesday’s seminar, Mr. Chuon Naron said it was time for teachers to hold up their end of the bargain.

“First, we called to have proper salaries, now they have that,” the minister said. “The second step is we need to encourage proper behavior, ethics and discipline [among teachers].”

Mr. Chuon Naron—who last year initiated a complete overhaul of the national high school exam, which was previously fraught with bribery—also announced the introduction of a system that would reward teachers based on their competence and integrity.

“We will examine the teachers, and those who have taught well will be rewarded and honored,” he said. “With this, we can solve the issues of teachers taking money [as bribes from students].”

One emerging issue that will be addressed in the random inspections is teacher-student ratios in schools, according to the minister. The distribution of children is changing with the rapid development of Phnom Penh, he said, leaving some institutions overstaffed and others struggling to cater to their students.

“People in the city are realizing that their land is much more valuable than before, so they are selling their land and moving to the outskirts,” he said, explaining that Chea Sim Santhormuk High School is down to about 5,000 students from a high of 10,000.

“In Phnom Penh, there is now an excess of about 1,000 teachers.”

Rong Chhun, a staunch government critic and head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, which has led calls for increased teacher salaries, said the new inspections were a facade.

“Inspectors going to observe will not solve the problem,” Mr. Chhun said. “[Mr. Chuon Naron] just says these things to sound good for an audience. The idea he raised is good, but it will not be successful because the ministry is not independent.”

However, Yem Ponhearith, a CNRP lawmaker who chairs the National Assembly’s committee on education, which organized Tuesday’s workshop, said the new system of inspections, led by the ministry rather than provincial officials, was long overdue.

“We went to visit the education department in Kampot [province] and found that the provincial inspector had retired—there was no one to replace him for two years,” he said. “This means that for two years, there was only internal inspections done by the school director, which is not very reliable because directors don’t tend to evaluate their own school poorly.

“The new system does not allow for that kind of problem.”

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