Police in riot gear prevented at least 70 teachers from marching in Phnom Penh yesterday in a Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association-led protest asking for teacher salaries to be increased to $250 dollars per month.
With police blocking their path, the teachers waved banners with printed messages such as “When our stomach is hungry, we cannot educate our students” and “Pass the anti-corruption law soon!” as they milled about in front of the union’s headquarters.
Corruption has long been prevalent in Cambodian schools, according to CITA President Rong Chhun, who blamed insufficient salaries as the root cause of classroom bribery.
Chhun Vanny, a primary teacher from Kompong Chhnang province said she could not live off her monthly 280,000 to 300,000 riel salary (about $70 to $75), requesting a minimum of one million riel, or $250. “We want the government looking at our poor living standard while the prices of goods are increasing,” she said.
Another protesting teacher, Then Chantha, expressed frustration with having to collect money from his primary school students to make ends meet. “We do not want to collect bribes from the students anymore,” he said. “We want the government to give us a reasonable salary.”
Ministry of Education officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The abridged protest march was planned to coincide with World Teachers’ Day, but Phnom Penh City Hall had previously decided that it would not permit the teachers to take to the city streets.
However, there will be a small sanctioned World Teachers’ Day event celebrated at the Phnom Penh’s Unesco office today. Organized by Unesco, the International Labor Organization and several NGOs, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the event will involve the participation of 300 teachers from the Phnom Penh area as well as 100 NGO workers.
Un Bunphoeun, education adviser from Aide et Action, one of the chief NGO organizers, said Friday that the goal of the event is primarily for fun but will also provide an opportunity “to bring up some issues and suggestions from teachers” in areas such as the need for better teacher training and higher salaries, to improve the “quality of education.”