Bun Phearath was not thrilled to be back in school Monday. And, like many of his fellow students, he had a lot of concerns on his mind, ranging from the qualifications of his teachers to toilet sanitation.
“I would rather get the qualified teacher, even if he or she is strict, but I do not need the corrupt teacher,” said the 13-year-old, sitting in the muddy school yard of Chaktomuk Junior High School.
The new school year officially began Monday. But most of the students in blue and white uniforms clutching brand new notebooks and pens spent only the morning in school. They were assigned classes, met their teachers and cleaned the classrooms, then went home.
Before they left for home, a few students offered some ideas on improving the education system.
Bun Phearath said he felt the course work in school would be challenging enough, but said he needed teachers who would take time to explain the lessons to the class and answer questions.
The students complained of noisy, unruly and overcrowded classes. They were particularly disgusted by the dirty toilets.
Bun Prearath claimed some classes contained as many as 80 students, and was concerned not every student would be able to get the individual attention he or she needed.
Bun Prearath’s friend, Meas Sakda, agreed. “Some teachers explain to us when they give us homework, but some others do not.” The second boy said instruction in mathematics especially needs to be strengthened.
Meas Sakda also complained of widespread cheating during exam taking, and blamed this on the lack of instruction.
“I’m always confused,” he said, “Teachers have not given us enough instruction and many students were copying each other during the exam.” He believes students in private schools are better prepared for their exams because they receive more individual attention.
Kea Sahorn, secretary of state for education, said Monday that the ministry is urging teachers to assign more homework to capitalize on students’ free time. He responded to concerns about the toilets, saying the problem could only be corrected through education over a long period.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, in an official opening address Monday, praised teachers who persevered in teaching, even without adequate supplies from the government.
Sar Kheng blamed the government’s inattention to education on the current political instability.