Valuing Teachers

Posted on: March 18, 2009 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

Valuing Teachers

written by MaryAnn Bylander | Managing Director

After years of research on the quality of teaching in Cambodia, VSO (Volunteer Services Overseas) recently released their report “Teaching Matters – The Motivation and Morale of teachers in Cambodia”.  (Read Full Report)

The VSO report highlights a lesson we have learned ourselves in Chanleas Dai: motivating teachers is complicated, difficult, requires systemic change coupled with personal investment, and is essential to improving education in Cambodia. 

The biggest factor leading to de-motivation of teachers is low teacher pay.  Teachers earn on average between $30 and $60 dollars a month, depending on their experience and hours.  Though salaries have risen significantly in the last decade, they are still below what would be considered a living wage in most areas of the country.  VSO estimates that the expenditures for one individual’s monthly diet of rice and fish (two staples of a Khmer diet), absorbs 66% of a teacher’s basic salary.  As one teacher quoted in the report notes, “A hungry stomach creates anger”.   Ninety-nine percent of teachers said that a teacher’s salary alone is not enough for one person to live on.  With families to support, and expenses beyond food to consider, nearly all teachers take second jobs (93% of those interviewed).

Outside of second jobs, another unfortunate outcome of low teacher pay is that fees are passed on to families and students through informal school fees.  Particularly in urban areas, teachers routinely require payment for their teaching, or for students to take required tests.   This causes the poorest students to drop out, and passes a governmental responsibility (free education) back onto families and communities.

At PEPY, our Teacher Livelihood Program is in its second year.  We currently support 17 teachers at two schools in Chanleas Dai, offering monthly food support in exchange for high attendance.  Coupled with teacher training, monitoring, and regular meetings, this program invests in teachers who are making their job as educators a priority.  As part of the program, teachers promise not to accept or ask for money from students. 

While it’s difficult to quantify increases in motivation, we’ve been impressed with the changes we have seen since the beginning of this program.  I recently went to a neighboring school to look at the new style of tables and chairs they were using in their classrooms and was shocked to see that only one classroom of six was open.  Looking back, I realize that this was also once the case in Chanleas Dai and sadly is still common throughout rural areas.   Without any consequences linked to absences, and an insufficient salary, it simply isn’t worth it for teachers to come to school each day when they could be working second jobs earning additional money. 

We’re proud to say that our teachers attend over 90% of the time. In the context of rural Cambodia, this is a substantial achievement, central to our success.  We hope that through further training, community involvement, and school-based income-generating projects, we can one day find more sustainable ways to increase attendance.  In the meantime, supplementing salaries with food to create a living wage has made a dramatic difference for our teachers, and thus for our students.

Can you help PEPY invest in improving teaching in Cambodia?  For thirty dollars a month you can support a teacher in Chanleas Dai.  For more information, contact: