Lisa Keovongsa and MacLeans A. Geo-Jaja, Educational Leadership & Foundations
Literature review argues that teachers are the most important element in determining the quality of a national education system (Gopinathan 2006). While quality education is often defined in the narrower sense of measurable outcomes, teachers still play an equally significant role in achieving widespread quality through developing critical thinking skills and instilling the value of education. In the context of Cambodia, education appears at a deficit in consideration of the country’s high drop out rates and low percentages of passing graduation. With this in mind, I decided to examine Cambodian teacher quality and their perspectives on well-being as well as the barriers preventing quality education.
To conduct the research, I travelled to Cambodia and visited six schools in four different provinces: one each in Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, and Battambang, and three in Phnom Penh. The selection was based on geographic location, involving both urban and rural schools. For the quantitative portion, I distributed questionnaires to teachers, measuring variables to quantify teacher quality, such as subject matter experience, training, certification, barriers towards teaching, and motivations for teaching. I also collected data regarding variables defining wellbeing, such as life and job satisfaction, nutrition, and leisure time.
For the qualitative portion, I conducted voice-recorded interviews with both teachers and administrators to ask about their own perspectives on education quality, personal barriers and motivations towards teaching and any other external factors affecting quality education, and their goals for the future and Cambodia. I measured by percentile the frequency of answers from the teacher questionnaires and performed an analysis on the data received both through the questions and the interviews. These results were used to define teacher quality in Cambodia objectively through a measurement of quality, and subjectively through the teachers’ perspectives of quality and well-being. Additionally, these results help identify some components as to why quality education is at a deficit in the country, and what teachers are doing to improve conditions for their students.
In terms of teacher quality, I found that the vast majority of teachers were both trained and certified. The barriers to teaching, however, strongly affected both teacher quality and wellbeing, which in turn prevented the teachers from teaching effectively. These barriers involve several key factors. First, the teachers receive only about the equivalent of 175 dollars per month, which is severely inadequate for one individual’s daily living. Many of the teachers are married and have children for whom they must supply additional income from other teaching or nonteaching jobs. As a result, the teachers do not have sufficient time to do personal research and plan lessons for their students; they must teach directly from manuals with little preparation. Second, because of inadequate salaries, some teachers will provide private tutoring where students must pay to receive lesson material essential for passing the class. Third, students often lack motivation to study because there is low accountability for class attendance. Also, their parents prioritize working for the family business over education, leading to the children dropping out of school. Fourth, the teachers do not have access to teaching materials such as laboratory equipment or technology to facilitate practical experience as opposed to learning theories. Finally, teachers express concern for the quality of primary school: teachers with the least experience receive these positions and are paid the lowest salary. As a result, students will not be taught sufficiently for secondary school and the proceeding teachers must play “catch-up” to help the students understand the material, delaying quality learning.
As for well-being, teachers experience many challenges from their inadequate salaries. Not only do they have less time to prepare for teaching, they have reported to have as little as 1% of their week as leisure time. Some teachers also believe they and their families experience food insecurity. Others worry about the health of themselves and their family, wondering how they could pay for medical expenses or take time away from work to care for their loved ones. Despite these results, teachers reveal they are comfortable in their own job situations, but would change to another teaching job if the opportunity were presented. In the interviews, teachers explained their reasons for teaching. Most believe that education is the key to development: it improves the knowledge of children in their community to increase communication and personal capacity. They hope to instill the value of education in their students so that they understand and use those practical skills and learned morality in their community.
Through hearing the perspectives of the teachers, I have come to understand that in Cambodia, there are many more components that prevent quality education than merely the standard definition of teacher quality provides. Teachers can have the belief to increase potential in each of their students’ lives, but if they do not have the time or energy to teach well, or the students do not respect the teachers, then the quality decreases. While these hindrances prevent effective teaching, the belief teachers still have in their students as well as the desire to continue teaching can possibly create transitions in the corruption and devaluing of education that exists in the country. The skills teachers educate students with can be a significant influence towards students’ success, with teachers’ hopes of students to see that ideology and understand, reflect on that understanding, and act, believing that success is possible.
In Cambodia, the education system needs to place higher value in the teachers because their beliefs and willingness to execute effective teaching are present, but the materials and resources to catalyze those beliefs are absent. This project examines the teacher’s role in education and prompts further examination of what components are necessary to focus on in order to create education in practice that values both the teachers and the students.