Project Aims to Make Phnom Penh School ‘Center of Excellence’

The Ministry of Education has given a local education NGO $370,000 and one year to implement a pilot project aimed at replacing a long list of informal payments required of students at a Phnom Penh high school with a merit-based payment system that rewards high-performing teachers, according to those involved.

Over the past four years, the Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (Kape) succeeded in raising education standards at three primary and secondary schools in Kompong Cham province by assessing teachers’ performance and awarding bonuses to those who excel as educators, using payments from students’ parents in lieu of bribes, according to the NGO’s senior technical adviser, Kurt Bredenberg. 

Now, the Education Ministry is asking Kape to attempt the same at Preah Sisowath High School in Phnom Penh, having given the NGO a formal green light on Thursday, along with $370,000 to carry out the project over the course of a year, Mr. Bredenberg said.

“Sisowath is a big challenge—it is a large school,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Mr. Bredenberg said Kape had not yet ironed out the details for how the project would be implemented at Preah Sisowath, but that it would be based on the model used in Kompong Cham.

“Many schools have fees for private teaching, bicycle parking and examination papers,” he said. “The board [in Kompong Cham] was able to negotiate that if the school adds to the salary of the teachers, they will agree not to charge these fees.”

Mr. Bredenberg said that in Kompong Cham, middle-class families whose children attend the schools covered by the program are asked to pay $65 per year in exchange for not having to pay the many bribes usually demanded of students. Families that cannot afford the fee are exempted. In order to receive bonuses, teachers must meet certain performance criteria, including teaching six hours per day, leading field trips and overseeing clubs.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said the Kape initiative was part of the ministry’s attempt to designate one school in each province as a “center of excellence,” starting with Preah Sisowath High School.

He said the ministry was working through Kape because it was illegal for the government to provide supplemental payments to teachers.

“If we do it ourselves, our regulations would not allow to provide any additional pay for the teachers,” he said.

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