Teachers have been only superficially involved in creating a plan that could dominate more than a decade of Cambodia’s education system, according to a study commissioned by the International Labor Organization.
The Education For All plan covers everything from teacher salaries and working conditions to student performance and curriculum. But its main thrust stems from international pressure to provide access to schooling for every child in first through ninth grades by 2015.
The Ministry of Education consulted teachers on the plan only during preliminary fact-finding trips in the provinces, said Karen Knight, who conducted and wrote the study for the social development NGO Pact.
“The reality is, there is no consistent, identifiable presence of teachers” consulted in the planning, she said.
Of roughly 2 million Cambodian children ages 6 to 11 years, 87 percent were enrolled in primary school in 2002. But only 19 percent of the 1 million children ages 12 to14 years were enrolled in school, the plan noted.
Knight presented the study this week at a seminar in Phnom Penh for Southeast Asian nations to report on their EFA plans. Knight urged Cambodia to move beyond political disputes so teachers can be involved in planning and implementation.
“The success of the EFA depends on the input of teachers,” Knight said. “We have a brain power of 80,000 to 90,000 teachers. That brain power is not being used.”
Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports officials solicited input from teachers, parents and principals during more than 100 trips in 2001 and 2002, said Nath Bun Rouen the ministry’s secretary-general of the EFA.
But not one working teacher sits on six committees dealing with the plan’s implementation, he said.
“We are all teachers,” Nath Bun Rouen said. “I am a teacher.”
He said he started as a teacher and is now an administrator, as are many of the other members, which also include NGO employees.
“[Teachers] have their job in the school,” he said. “We do not want to disturb them in the classroom.”
Teachers association representatives also were not invited to join the committees, he said.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said his association has had trouble engaging the ministry in discussions.
Rong Chhun has pushed to raise salaries from $30 per month to $100 per month.
The EFA plans includes stipulations for increasing salaries and a ministry “strategic plan” projects teachers’ salaries will double by 2005.
For many teachers, paychecks have been coming late since the July 27 elections. Others have
not been paid for overtime accrued since 2002, Rong Chhun said.
“I think the government has discriminated against CITA, especially the Ministry of Education,” Rong Chhun said. “They want to hide the bad actions, especially the corruption.”
Only about 2,500 of Cambodia’s 80,000 teachers belong to CITA. Although the CITA was recognized, after international pressure, Cambodia still has conflicting laws about the collective bargaining rights of teachers, who are considered civil servants, Knight said.
The Khmer Teachers Association, which has existed since before the Khmer Rouge regime, is a social service organization and not involved in collective bargaining, she added.
Taing Muy Kea, KTA member, suggested more teacher input could be solicited through KTA bulletins and mailings.
Nuon Rity, International Labor Union representative in Cambodia, said the study proves that teachers’ unions still are not being consulted.
“Teachers’ unions need to build up their capacity,” he said. “They’re not strong yet.”
The Ministry of Education’s Nath Bun Rouen said the inclusion of unions and associations would lead to discrimination.
“I want education for all and all for education,” he said. “No discrimination.”
Nath Bun Rouen said teachers would be informed about the plan through brochures, due for distribution in February and at the teacher training academy.
“I don’t agree with Pact,” he said. “I want to meet with Pact to clarify…because we want everyone involved.”
The information-gathering trips to all 24 provinces cost $20,000 to $30,000 and were funded by the UN Education, Science and Cultural Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, said Supote Prasertsri, educational program specialist in Cambodia for Unesco.
Prasertsri said he appreciated the report, but said the project has only been going for a short time and teacher involvement and training will improve.
“Teachers are the ones who are the direct influencing factor on education,” he said.