By Anne Lemaistre
Teaching is a challenging professional task. It requires knowledge, motivation and adaptability. Each day offers new difficulties, and each day we witness how individual teachers find creative ways to overcome the difficult conditions exacerbated by limited equipment and material resources with which to carry out their professional responsibilities.
Today, October 5, is celebrated worldwide as World Teachers’ Day. These celebrations recognize the important role of teachers and galvanize support for their task as educators but also role models, helping students to become good citizens and participate fully in the society.
On this special day, we would like to show our deep appreciation for the vital contribution that teachers have made in education and development of society.
A month ago, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched his “Education First Initiative.” It identifies three concrete actions: first, putting every child in school; second improving the quality of learning; and third fostering global citizenship. For each of these priorities, teachers have a central role to play.
It is encouraging to note that Cambodian citizens recognize that teachers are one of the main pillars of a sound and progressive society. In a survey carried out by the NGO Education Partnership among 1,100 people from throughout Cambodia, more than 90 percent of respondents believe that being a teacher is a good job, and two-thirds of them believe that teachers are respected or highly respected in Cambodian society.
In just over three decades, Cambodia has grown an impressive teaching force of 86,000 and growing. There are now 26 Teacher Training Centers throughout the country. This clearly indicates that teacher education and professional development is of significant concern to the Cambodian government, in particular to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Further efforts of other ministries, such as the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, also need to be acknowledged in preparing teachers to teach in technical and vocational schools and centers which are playing an important role in developing a skilled workforce.
Cambodia still faces significant challenges. It has a large student-teacher ratio, particularly at the primary level, driven by massive growth in student enrolments over the past decade. In addition, rural primary schools tend to have a higher concentration of students per classroom than urban primary schools.
Teacher deployment in remote areas remains a challenge, which has a direct consequence on the most disadvantaged students. Encouraging and supporting secondary students from remote areas to become teachers, providing them with a supporting environment and benefits to remain in their home districts as teachers is one important strategy that has been successfully pursued by many countries worldwide.
Upgrading teacher qualifications is another key challenge. It is estimated that significant efforts will be required to upgrade the qualifications of the one-third of the teaching force with only lower secondary education qualifications or less. Other issues such as the teachers’ presence in the classrooms, absenteeism, number of instructional hours, informal fees and supplementary tutoring etc. will require more comprehensive strategies and actions to address teacher recruitment, preparation, deployment and remuneration.
To further enhance the teacher recruitment, professional development, motivation and overall support, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports is developing a national teacher policy. It provides an excellent opportunity to take into account the teacher’s voice, sending a clear signal to the teachers that their opinions matter and that they have a chance to contribute.
This is indeed aptly summed up by Minister of Education Im Sethy, who once during a conversation said: “Teachers know what’s working in schools before anyone else.”
While we strive to seek best possible support mechanisms, it is equally important in turn for teachers to be accountable to their students and communities. The teaching profession is encouraged to design and implement teacher codes of conduct, based on the highest ethical and professional standards, and to be oriented around the goal of teaching all students effectively and equally.
Education is not only the concern and responsibility of the government and the ministries of education. Everyone—governments and educational institutions at all levels, teachers’ associations, civil society organizations, development partners, the private sector, parents and teachers themselves have this responsibility. Hence, we all need to come together to support teachers professionally, boosting their determination and motivation through ensuring decent employment and working conditions and adequate remuneration.
On this special day, with the impetus of Ban’s Education First initiative, let us join forces to express our gratitude to the teachers for their exceptional contribution in building a modern and sustainable society and the enormous impact they have on our society and our future citizens.
As Irina Bokova, Unesco director general, states: “We expect a lot from teachers—they, in turn, are right to expect as much from us.”
Anne Lemaistre is the Unesco representative to Cambodia.