We posten deze weken drie berichten over scholing in Cambodja. Deze BLOG’s geven een beeld van de ontwikkeling van de situatie hier en nu, maar ook van de geschiedenis.
Dit is het laatste deel van de reeks van drie.
We hebben deze BLOG’s kunnen gebruiken van een vriendin van ons (http://cranniesandnooks.blogspot.com). We zijn blij dat we ze over mogen nemen. De BLOG’s zijn in het Engels geschreven.
Cambodian education, part 3: 1998 to present
Since reading David Ayres’ book Anatomy of a Crisis
and writing about what I learned from it, I’ve been reflecting. The book was published in 1998. What has changed in Cambodian education since then, and what has remained the same? Corruption
continues to define all facets of life in Cambodia, including education. Whether top-ranking officials pilfering funds, professors selling exam answers and fake diplomas, teachers charging daily bribes to students, or students plagiarizing and phoning a friend for exam help, everyone has a method of getting more while doing less. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include getting more education. Students continue to know much less than they should at each grade level. Part of that is due to rampant teacher absenteeism
, particularly in the province, where teachers work two or three jobs and routinely miss class to work elsewhere. That, in turn, is due to woefully low teacher salaries, a product of Cambodian education funds disappearing into powerful people’s pockets so that actual school spending is always well under budget.
The low teacher salaries also help perpetuate the problem of teacher quality. Nobody wants to teach in a public elementary school – it’s the bottom of the barrel, well below factory workers’ wages. Therefore, it continues to attract the most desperate, least-qualified candidates. Over 38% of primary school teachers and 16% of secondary school teachers have not completed grade 12
Cambodia’s primary and secondary curriculum is still based on the French system, with little relation to the lives of the subsistence farmers that populate most of the land. Primary school dropout ratesremain quite high, especially in the countryside, where children often begin school late and where few parents are hopeful that education could improve their children’s future. It’s common to pick one “smart” child per family and focus efforts on that child making it as far as possible in school, while the other kids are expected to help out in the rice paddies as soon as possible. Only 45% of Cambodia’s workforce has completed primary school.
However, there have certainly been changes, some for the better, others more ambiguous. For one thing, far more Cambodians start school than before, and while dropout rates remain high, far more are graduating. Primary school enrollment closed the gender gap
to include about 95% of boys and girls alike. Secondary school enrollment tripled
from 2003 to 2013. University students increased from 10,000 in 1990 to 250,000 in 2013
. There are 105 different tertiary institutions, though Cambodia still has no accreditation process for universities, so I could rent out a room tomorrow and call it the Chelsea University. Countless private schools dot Phnom Penh, from prestigious international-caliber schools to laughably terrible ones that barely improve on public schools. A former student of mine is assistant principal at a private elementary school near my house; he’s never attended college.
Unfortunately, teacher hiring hasn’t quite kept pace with the rapid expansion. The number of professors is far too low (little wonder, given the limited pool of those who have completed master’s or Ph.D.-level work) and the primary student-teacher ratio is the worst in the region and among the worst worldwide.
One word represents the biggest force of change in Cambodian education: ASEAN. It’s an acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the local answer to the European Union or NATO. In December of this year, its ten members are supposed to start merging into a “single market and production base with a free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor
,” though analysts question whether the process will occur on time. This ASEAN economic community would allow skilled laborers from Cambodia’s neighbors to come here and compete freely against locals. Guess who would lose in that game? Cambodian leaders have expressed major concern about their citizens’ education level and preparedness for this forthcoming integrated economy, and with good reason.It seems that this concern about ASEAN integration has translated into permission for the education minister, Chuon Naron, to implement changes. He actually seems like a surprisingly competent, sincerely dedicated individual, according to several informed people I know. Mr. Naron has put a moratorium on new universities until the number of qualified professors catches up to student enrollment. (The exception is science and engineering schools, which are woefully lacking.) He has fought hard to increase teacher salaries
and protect them from graft by officials, hoping to attract higher-caliber individuals and free up current teachers to quit some of their other jobs. He says this is the first step toward increasing teacher accountability and improving quality. (He’s right, but unfortunately, he’s not getting much support from the Prime Minister, which means salaries haven’t improved yet.) Last week, he launched a $20 million initiative
to identify and re-enroll primary-aged kids not enrolled in school.Mr. Naron also made waves last fall by cracking down on one key type of corruption: cheating on the national exam that students must pass to earn a high school diploma. Gone are the days when relatives could throw rocks
through the classroom windows with exam answer sheets taped to them (sold just outside the high schools, of dubious quality). The exam was carefully guarded beforehand, and proctors were required (mostly successfully) to confiscate papers and smartphones and to refuse bribes. Although he simplified the exam by eliminating several subjects from it, barely 1/4 of test-takers passed
, down from 87% the previous year. In a retake
later on, only another 20% passed. His rationale is that the final exam is actually the best place to start, so that students will try harder in school and respect their teachers more. Those who failed must repeat grade 12 before continuing to university. Some people I know think Mr. Naron and ASEAN will bring about real transformation in Cambodian education. Others are more cynical. I don’t know. I’m encouraged by recent changes, but ultimately Cambodian society needs to change from within, starting in the hearts and minds of individuals. Economic constraints and even accountability from a well-meaning leader aren’t enough to shift a culture whose backbone has always been corruption and exploitation. Thankfully, I know Someone who has that kind of power, and He cares about Cambodia’s children just as much as Mr. Naron does. It’s going to be a long road, but schools aren’t doomed to stagnate forever.