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School Year Begins, With Struggling Teachers Absent

 Young students in Cambodia.
Young students in Cambodia.

Banoy primary school sits on a bumpy road about 50 kilometers from Takeo town, the provincial capital. A ringing bell means the end of class, and schoolboys and schoolgirls on a recent afternoon filtered out of the school and began heading home.

October marks the beginning of a new school year, but students interviewed recently in Takeo say they lack teachers. Their teachers are also farmers or market vendors, supplementing their incomes with outside work that keeps them out of the classroom.

Peang Khyang, the co-director of the school, walked nearby with an old, grey bicycle. He said teachers here have a hard time making ends meet.

“If we cannot fill our stomachs, we can't stay focused on our work,” he said. “I don't know what the government really thinks. But we don't dare ask for an increase in salary. We just like teaching for the sake of teaching.”

Teachers currently make different monthly salaries according to the level of school they are in: 100,000 riel, or $20, for primary, $50 for secondary and $70 for high school.

Peang Khyang said a teacher needs between $200 and $300 a month to maintain a decent standard of living. (By comparison, garment factory workers are currently fighting for incomes of about $90 per month, up from $61.)

On Oct. 5, which is International Teacher's Day, the Independent Teachers Association announced it wanted a raise for educators to $250 per month. They had planned a march for Oct. 6, but local authorities prevented it.

“The main problem of teachers in the matter of making a living,” said Rong Chhun, president of the association, which has made repeated requests for salary increases over the years.

Thong Boran, director general of finance for the Ministry of Education, said the request by the teacher's association did not follow the government's plan for teacher salaries.

“We work following a strategy and plan,” he said. “Ron Chhun is different.”