Developing human resources for its aid recipients in emerging economies tops Japan’s agenda, alongside building infrastructure to push economic growth.
The Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) was introduced in 1999 to train young government officials who are expected to engage in implementing social and economic development plans in their countries.
The all-paid-for JDS scholarships sponsor officials from developing nations to pursue two-year master’s degrees at Japanese universities.
The first batch of Cambodian students began pursuing their education in 2001, and as of 2019 a total of 440 students from the Kingdom had completed training in Japan under the JDS programme. Each year, 26 students are selected for the programme.
Some of these Cambodian post-graduates currently hold senior positions in the civil service.
Huot Synead: Ministry of Civil Service
One Cambodian beneficiary is Huot Synead, 42 – currently undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Civil Service – who completed his master’s in International Business Law at Yokohama National University in 2008.
“I chose Japan because, as an Asian country, it has a similar culture to Cambodia, and Japan is a developed nation.
“During my two years at Yokohama National University, I had to work very hard because education in Japan is very competitive and strict.
“The Japanese are very focused and disciplined people, so students have to be very disciplined in studies as well as in their daily lives. I think Japanese people’s hard work has contributed significantly to Japan’s prosperity in all areas,” said Synead.
The scholarship provides an opportunity for students to conduct research for their master’s, he added.
The JDS programme covers tuition fees, accommodation, meals and transportation to university, as well as other costs.
Upon returning to his homeland after graduation, Synead continued working for the Ministry of Interior and had the opportunity to work as an assistant to Prum Sokha, the former secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior who is now the Minister of Civil Service.
The knowledge Synead gained from the scholarship together with his working experience meant he has managed to move up in his career in the Cambodian civil service.
Peng Tithsothy, Ministry of Education
Phnom Penh Teacher Education College (PTEC) deputy director Peng Tithsothy is another student who benefited from a postgraduate scholarship. She studied and carried out her research at Hiroshima University in 2009.
While a member of staff at the National Institute of Education (Earth Science Teacher) at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, she applied to do a master’s degree in Japan.
In her first year, she studied teaching methodology, which was her main area of research, but later decided to develop educational planning, measurement and assessment.
With that in mind, she took an additional course on how to plan, create and assess an educational project.
“During my two years in Japan, I was really focused on my studies and gained a lot of knowledge in research methods and analysis, as well as deep analytical thinking.
“And studying with Japanese and foreign students gave me the possibility to explore different perspectives and learn from other research students who had practical experience in their respective fields,” Tithsothy said.
After returning from Japan, she was involved in compiling a guide book for primary school earth science teachers at the National Institute of Education, and also developed teaching methods for science teachers.
Since 2018 she has held the post of deputy director at PTEC, where she is in charge of science, mathematics and pedagogy.
“It has been 10 years since I returned to Cambodia, and I have applied a lot of what I learned in Japan at my workplace. If I had not studied in Japan through the JDS programme, I think I would not be where I am today,” said the 43-year-old Tithsothy.
Her main aim, she said, is to bring changes to the way students are taught in Cambodian schools – with a shift away from rote learning in classrooms.
“What we need to do is pay attention to teachers’ and educational leaders’ assessment ability. In Cambodia, the purpose of classes and exams are not to measure students’ level of understanding but to focus on memorising knowledge.
“There is a lack of mechanisms to evaluate students’ level of understanding. I want to build a system to solve these current weaknesses,” Tithsothy said.
Un Sreynet, Ministry of Education
The JDS scholarship also took Un Sreynet, 30, a former English teacher from the Secondary School in Phnom Penh, to Hiroshima University in 2015, where she pursued a master’s degree to help develop quality education.
After completing her studies, she returned home to continue as an English teacher, but her job did not allow her to optimise the expertise she had gained in Japan, and her career advancement was limited.
Sreynet then joined the Ministry of Education’s Department of Policy, where she is putting to use all the knowledge she gained at Hiroshima University.
“It was more than gaining knowledge, it was about learning how to live and study in a Japanese university. The living environment was comfortable and safe, which allowed me to concentrate well and learn more about local and international cultures through the university’s activities,” Sreynet said.
Her two-year Japanese stint gave her an opportunity to stay with a host family and experience the local culture.
Sreynet is excited about her current job, in which she focuses on developing education policies – which requires plenty of research – skills that she acquired while in Japan.
She is currently working with colleagues to develop a set of policies to promote quality education in the Kingdom. In 2019, she had another opportunity to visit Japan to learn about organising and implementing parent-teacher associations, health education and proper school evaluation systems.
The JDS student network is expanding and contributing to further improving Cambodia-Japan ties.
JDS offers great opportunities for those from developing countries to learn about policy-making and institution building, which are both crucial for a country’s development.
The resulting strengthened human capital plays a significant role in improving Cambodia’s socio-economic development.