Cambodian Teacher Training

March 24 2018

By Matthew Scott (Rotarian) 

WHILE most teachers were on school holidays over the Christmas and new year break, I embarked on the opportunity of a lifetime to teach in rural Cambodia for two weeks.

Taking part in a Vocational Training Team (VTT) through Rotary International, I headed off from Melbourne with three other teachers representing both the Catholic and state education sectors.

After a few days based in Phnom Penh (the Cambodian capital) where we got to know each other, meet our translators and go over the curriculum, we journeyed into the middle of nowhere to the province of Kampong Speu which would be our home for the next week.

In Kampong Speu we got up very early to be at school by 7:30am to begin lesson preparations for the day’s teaching. We were based at the Pi Thnou school, where Cambodian teachers would usually teach in two shifts per day. In having our professional development sessions in the morning it meant that our participating teachers could still go off to their home school to teach the second shift in the afternoon.

As part of the VTT program, Rotary goes back to the same schools each year. In doing so, participants can graduate each of the four stages of the program. So in completing level one of the program this year, my participating class of teachers can return in 2019 and complete level two and so on.

Some of the areas that I covered with my teachers in level one were; different ways of teaching writing such as recounts and mini-books, interactive educational games, how to teach literacy and prediction using a big book, strategies for behaviour management and gaining students attention, as well as assessment tools and general icebreakers.

Even with the best planned lessons and instructions on the whiteboard, not all of the Cambodian teachers spoke English. So each participant was given a resource manual with all of the worksheets and resources translated into Khmer. We also had the services of trained translators who spoke Khmer as their native language. This made teaching the lessons so much easier, however, I sometimes wondered where my lesson was going to, with the pronunciation of each English word taking at least three times as long in Khmer and teachers often laughing when I was sure that I hadn’t actually said anything funny!

In the classroom, it was great to see the participating teachers eagerly engaging with the work and materials that we had given them. Their written work was great, as were the illustrations in many of their mini-books. The Cambodians certainly have a real artistic flare when it comes to drawing. I even had one teacher who went home to his own young son and taught him how to make a mini-book. He came in the next morning to show me how proud he was of his son’s work. I really appreciated him showing me this, as I knew from that moment forward that the teachers were really engaging with the professional development we were offering them.

There were many wonderful learning experiences which took place in the classroom while teaching the teachers, however, the joy came at the end of our four days at the school when we were able to award the teachers a certificate for graduating from our course. They were all so proud, clapping each other, but also wanting a “selfie” with me for being their teacher.

After a week in Kampong Speu we then spent the day in the bus, driving up a very corrugated road to get towards Siem Reap. Siem Reap is another larger province in Cambodia, most closely located near the ancient wonder of the world, Angkor Wat temple. Here we taught at a secondary school, delivering the same program to another group of Cambodian teachers. This program again went successfully, however it was interesting comparing both the similarities and differences of teaching in two different countries with our Cambodian colleagues. Although they may often have classes of 70+ students, we all have issues with behaviour, disengaged students and parents no matter which country you teach in.

Even though I went overseas to teach and up skill the Cambodian teachers, I felt like I’d learnt a lot about myself to improve my own teaching practice. It also gave me firsthand experience of social justice, which is also something I will be able to take back to my own classes at school.

Towards the end of each program Cambodian teachers were given the opportunity to provide feedback on their learning. It is positive to note that the majority of teacher participants found what they had learnt from us worthwhile and able to be utilised in their own classrooms.

Overall, I found the Cambodian teaching program to be a life changing experience to take part in, and a thoroughly worthwhile and positive way to spend my school holidays giving something back to the world. I would encourage people who have often thought about doing such a program to contact Rotary or any other non-government organisation which offers similar educational opportunities.


Photos from Cambodian Teaching Program: