Digging below the data. Government figures reveal a teacher shortage in Siem Reap

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Savong’s School prize giving, Ministry of Education figures show there isn’t a classroom shortage in the province: the real shortage is that of teaching staff.

I’m a facts and figures kind of guy, and by day I work with statistics. In truth when I go to sleep my head is often still swirling with numbers and calculations. Lately I’ve been looking at the figures published by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MOEYS) based on a comprehensive schools census undertaken in 2012 and 2013.

You can imagine the paperwork, with every principal of every school expected to fill in accurate figures of their school enrolments and staffing levels. Statistically this is a nightmare. The simple truth is, on any given day, the number of students who may have enrolled but have actually shown up at school is at wide variance. Many students enroll  at school but for reasons of poverty, distance, health, family circumstances as well is the widespread need to help mum and dad during harvest season – all these reasons contribute to actual school numbers being somewhat fuzzy at best.

But I take my hat off to the Ministry for getting the best available numbers together in order for them to plan the progress of education in Cambodia.  I won’t reproduce their tables of data here, (you probably don’t share my appetite for stats,) but I did examine them and perform a few calculations of my own in order to get a picture of how Siem Reap is served educationally.

Hands up if you think that Siem Reap is a relatively prosperous region in Cambodia thanks to its burgeoning tourist numbers. Well, see me after class. In fact this province is one of the poorest in Cambodia, and if the city itself seems bustling and well-to-do, then the rural areas must be very poor in order to drag the averages down. They are.

Let’s take three simple key performance indicators to run a health check on Siem Reap’s relative education resources.

The first of these KPIs is the presence of truly disadvantaged schools. The Ministry definition of a disadvantaged school is quite rigourous. It is a school where there are no toilets, and where there are inadequate floors and walls or roofing on the classrooms. A school has to tick all of those boxes in order to be classified as a disadvantaged school. In 2013 just 1.5 percent (170) of Cambodia’s 11,370 schools  were considered disadvantaged.  In Siem Reap  21 schools of the region’s 911 (2.3%) were considered disadvantaged.

Now let’s look at enrolments per classroom. Figures differ according to who conducts these surveys, and according to which assumptions the statisticians must take when they calculate the figures. I think the UN figures suggest larger classroom sizes than do the Ministry’s own figures.  But let’s stick with the  Ministry’s figures.  On average, they say, there are 38.3 students per classroom. The percentages are identical almost, when they compare urban and rural areas; a finding that surprised me. But some areas are better served than others, and in  Siem Reap there are 43 children per classroom, one of the highest ratios in all of Cambodia.

I then did some crosschecking, by looking at the ratio of  students per teacher. After all one could have a school with plenty of physical classrooms, but not have many teachers on the payroll. The Ministry breaks down staff figures into teaching staff and non-teaching staff, so I have focused here on the teaching staff. And remember this is primary as well as secondary schools. Overall in Cambodia there are 36 students for each of the 87,203 teaching staff.  Basically that suggests there is one classroom per teacher, and both ratios I have used come out more or less the same. Compared 36 students per teacher compared with 38 students per classroom.

No drama there, surely.

But hold on!  If we look at Phnom Penh,we see a relative oversupply of teachers. The students per teacher ratio in Phnom Penh is 23 to 1.  That’s quite a difference from their students per classroom figure of 40 students per classroom. Either this means that teachers are sharing their classrooms with each other, or that there are more part-time staff, taking turns in these classrooms.

Meanwhile in Siem Reap there are 51 students per teacher. In other words there don’t appear to be enough teachers to fill the region’s 5860 classrooms. (According to the numbers, there are 4888 teachers in the Siem Reap province.) Only one other region comes close to having a similar teacher shortage: a hallmark of rural areas rather than city areas.

I do think there is one methodological gap in the Ministry’s census of school enrolment numbers. They have done a pretty diligent job of collecting the data, entering it carefully, and calculating the numbers.  In fact I take my hat off to them as a fellow researcher.  But I wonder if they have factored-in the role of NGOs in the mix. There is nothing that I can find in the Ministry figures that suggest that this is the case, and quite possibly we will see the classroom teacher ratios move around somewhat once more schools – and Savong’s School is just one example – become registered and part of the overall Ministry picture.

Quite possibly, thanks to overseas supported schools around Siem Reap, the key performance measures are less dire then they appear. I hope so, but from the evidence collected by the Ministry, it is clear that the government is currently unable by itself to get the teacher ratios to a healthy level both in rural and city areas. The shortage of teachers in the countryside is one of the major challenges faced by the education system of Cambodia.

For more facts and figures: click here.

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