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Growing problem: Class sizes

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A teacher in a classroom at a primary school in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district last year. Hong Menea

Growing problem: Class sizes

In Cambodia, it is accepted that twenty-five students per class is a reasonable number for a teacher to manage effectively. Due a to a lack of classrooms, some schools, especially in rural areas and remote towns, have been forced to squeeze more students in than the twenty-five recommended by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

In the case of primary schools, it is especially important to follow this guideline, say primary school teachers, because children of this age bracket require more control from their teacher. They are not yet accustomed to learning, are more easily distracted, and would generally rather play or stay home then study. These challenges are up to teachers to solve, using their skills and experience to keep students focussed on their lessons.

Than Kosal, a primary school teacher, described it as normal to have over 40 students in his class, and said that was true for nearly all of the classes in his school.

“In my school, the administration will not split a class until there are more than 50 students in it. This sometimes makes it difficult to employ effective classroom management techniques,” he said.

Kosal, who teaches in Takeo province, said that he wanted the number of students to meet education ministry standards because he worried that teaching was not as comprehensive as it could be. He said this was because staff were spending a lot of time maintaining order in the classroom and not enough time teaching.

Lim Kea teaches 40 students in his class, due to a shortage of classrooms. He claimed that the class would not be split until there were 70 children in it.

Kea, a primary school teacher in Kampot province, said “These little children are very difficult to control, and the larger the number, the greater the difficulty. It is far easier – and far more effective – to teach fewer students per class.”

In addition to the problem of overcrowding, he offered some parenting issues that made teaching more difficult. Many students’ parents were not checking that their children had completed their homework, and often study logs and homework diaries were missing the signatures of parents or guardians.

When this happened, he usually called the parents to discuss the issue, but seldom got much of a response, and many students were still attending school but routinely ignoring any homework they were set. He also warned that more and more time seemed to be spent on electronic devices. Overall, he was concerned that students’ academic performance had dropped dramatically.

He claimed that the parents of almost half of his students were uncooperative. As a teacher, he was unhappy that his teaching was not reaching all of his students.

According to early childhood education experts, the issue of students exceeding the recommended class size remains common, especially in the provinces.

Prak Kosal, director of the Department of Early Childhood Education of the education ministry, said: “Children at this age need a lot of attention! Imagine having two or three small kids at home, and how much energy the parents need to keep an eye on them. Now imagine a single teacher trying to manage 40 children! How much patience would it take?”

Kosal added that due to a lack of classrooms and teachers in some areas, the ministry was working through the issue in stages. Their first goal is to ensure that all children are receiving an education at all. The next step will be to improve student to teacher ratios and train more teaching staff.

He also highlighted the importance of parental involvement in early childhood and primary education, noting that his department had issued a handbook to all communes. It aimed to educate parents on how to pay more attention to their children’s schooling.

“The old Khmer saying ‘Teachers are second parents’ should serve as a reminder that parents and guardian remained in first place, and therefore must learn to play an important role in driving the education of their children,” added Kosal.


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