Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Hang Choun Naron's Policy Pitfall

“It is true that quality education is quality teacher, but if the students do not work, good teachers will not solve the problem”.

Education minister Hang Choun Naron, 30 August 2014, Interview with Radio Free Asia

“There will be no exceptions at the second exam. At that time, you will at least be held in pre-trial detention for one month—that would be long enough to remove your name from the payroll… You are the teachers and if you mistreat or cheat your own students it would not be different from a father raping his daughter.”

ACU president Om Yentieng, 28 August 2014, The Cambodia Daily

It seems like a chicken and egg situation – which one comes first, students, or teachers? The education minister is decisive: it must be students. He says the students are more important due to the fact that better teachers prefer Phnom Penh, yet the Phnom Penh’s pass rate is lower than those of two isolated provinces in the recent Bac II exams. His logic is flawed – he ignores the overwhelming evidence that the Phnom Penh rate is much higher than the national average. Hence, his policy that focuses on students by making them studious, moving curriculum emphasis from arts to science, and strengthening teacher training, may be ineffective.

First, the ministry has implemented the teacher training program countless times in the past few decades, and the outcome is that students must rely on outright cheating to achieve the over 80% pass rate. Thus, the minister’s policy of strengthening it will more likely exacerbate a resources misuse.

Second, the change of emphasis from arts to science is sound. The minister is right Cambodia needs more engineers and technicians, making math and science subjects imperative. But the challenge is how to move from arts that many think is easy – though Mozart’s IQ exceeds 160 – to science that requires a well-functioning left brain hemisphere. Of course, students with an Einstein IQ could work their way to anything. But the majority will require teachers who are well-qualified and well-resourced; otherwise, both the teachers and students will be stumbling in the dark to nowhere.

Third, the minister’s policy of making students work, or work harder, is appropriate. He may be right tightening exam processes will induce students to work hard, but the unscheduled resit he must organize to appease his premier is likely to lessen the policy effectiveness. If a higher pass rate is necessary to maintain profits of the premier’s personal interest groups that run universities, any manipulations – including resit and lower test standard – will encourage the students to continue behaving as if study is an option.

The best way to inspire students to work hard is to improve a variable that constantly comes face to face with them: the teachers. Only teachers can make complex subjects, like math and science, fun to learn and easy to absorb.

Nevertheless, to carry out their role effectively, teachers need decent remunerations for a respectful life. They would stay focused on teaching effectiveness and on students’ progress, not on their stomach. There would be no need for them to keep their classroom enterprises, or moonlighting elsewhere to survive.

A scrutiny of pass rates for expensive private schools in Phnom Penh confirms teachers come first. Theirs are much higher than the Phnom Penh average; and a better logic is that rich parents are not stupid enough to pay top dollars for mediocre teachers.

Anyhow, it appears the dilapidated education will continue for more decades, yet. The recent ACU’s threat of jail time for teachers is outrageous, but it is consistent with the mentality that keeps teachers in the dump.

Ung Bun Ang

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