Teachers, Ministry Squabble Over Young Readers

Following a letter from the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) demanding reform of the primary school system to address poor reading levels, an Education Ministry spokesman Wednesday suggested that the association’s members focus more on teaching and less on letter writing.

Ouk Chhayavy, acting head of CITA, said the organization spent the first four months of the year surveying primary schools in 10 provinces and found that reading levels fell well below acceptable standards.

“For 30 percent of the students in grade 5 and 6, their reading is not good,” Ms. Chhayavy said. “Some students cannot read, some students do not understand what they read. This is because the teachers are not paying attention to…the student’s reading skills.

“If at primary school, students cannot read, then how can we expect them to be successful in their high school exams?” she added.

In Wednesday’s letter to the Education Ministry, CITA said the reading levels of the children surveyed did not correspond with their grades, and requested that the ministry enact reforms to better monitor teacher performance.

Contacted later, Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said CITA was not well informed and that its members should concentrate on their own jobs.

“I think they should observe the ministry at work before they send their letters. Sometimes they stay out of the classroom; they should go in themselves and teach the students how to read,” Mr. Salin said.

“The ministry is working to create a national reading day for students as of 2016, but we need to request it to the government,” he said.

Cambodia’s education system is among the worst in Asia. Underfunded and plagued by corruption, it also suffers from a shortage of teachers and high dropout rates.

But asked about the challenges faced by primary school children who are learning how to read, Unesco’s education specialist in Cambodia, Santosh Khatri, said the Khmer script was one of the most complex in the world.

“[I]t is considered one [of] the most difficult, it takes time for children to understand it and in the past years, there has been studies that show children struggle in reading,” Mr. Khatri said.

“You need additional reading materials, for example comics, stories or novels, but these are scarce in Cambodian schools,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Maria Paula Brito)

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