On Wednesday afternoon at the conference I had congratulated the new Head of Primary Education in Cambodia on what I thought had been an excellent #round up# at the end of the day, when he had said that he did not want to see a blame culture developing. ‘If we did not like what we saw in the schools’, he said, ‘our job is to motivate people to do better, to work with them to find the best way and then to support them as they aim for it.’ He mentioned that the last morning would be looking at performance indicators and I said something to the effect, ‘Oh I’ll have something to say about that.’ I had one or two thoughts on this theme already as I had submitted these thoughts to the policy committee. I had thought what would happen is that I would have the chance to ask a question or make a point after the final presentation. However after the first break of the morning I was handed the mike and asked to address the audience of over 200 Provincial Directors of Education, District Directors, Teacher Training College Directors, Ministry officials etc. Well I’m nothing if not confident and so made several points which summarised what I wanted to say …. but not as well as I wanted to say it…. about the Child Friendly Schools initiative:
1. Even in Scotland, where we have many state of the art, technology rich schools and teachers are paid $4000 a month (as opposed to the $70 a month average in Cambodia), we have many problems in education. But if you always dwell on the problems you can become very depressed! So first from are some positives.
2. The Child Friendly Schools Policy ( http://www.moeys.gov.kh/Includes/Contents/Education/ChildFriendly%20Schools%20in%20Cambodia.pdf ) is as good a Basic Education policy as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
3. Be proud of what you have already achieved. Everywhere there are improvements to be proud of and teachers and school Directors who really care about their pupils. Nothing has made me happier since I came to Cambodia than to see so many young students cycling from near and far to attend their local school… their presence in school is an act of faith by their parents that they will have a better future.
4. But for the next four years you need to move everything up a gear… and the people in this hall today, by their energy, commitment and hard work for the future of Cambodia, have the potential to make that happen.
5. Moving up a gear does not mean ‘more of the same’. So far a lot of your energy has been on processes.. and you need to continue to do that. But now you need to give much more attention to ‘outcomes’ and to measure these in a valid and reliable way. After all, you can have a teacher who follows all the prescribed processes but still does not teach as well as one next door who cuts some corners but works hard to help students learn. There are many different ways to good outcomes, because there are many different school contexts.
6. In particular enrolment and attendance (these had already been well covered by the Director) and testing. [yes I found myself arguing for national testing at this stage in the country’s educational development, so that everyone knows the standard being aimed for – at the moment that is not the case] However testing must be reliable and valid and that means it is everyone’s responsibilty to ensure the integrity of the testing system (unlike secondary school examinations in Cambodia where richer students can buy the paper before the exam!). Everyone in the system, from class teacher, to school director, provincial director and officials at the centre can benefit from accurate information about how the pupils they care about have matched up to the standard. But these results must not be used to blame those who do less well (as the Director already said). The purpose of the results is to help those involved to ask the right questions and to support each other to improve.
Then I ended with profuse respectful thanks and best wishes etc…
How I wish I had known in advance that I was going to have this stage.. however I do believe in the advice I gave, and as an Adviser, that’s what I’m here to do.
I did feel very positive about the future of education in Cambodia, when I met some of the very effective people at that conference.
PS Big thanks and special respect to Satya of VSO who is a smart guy, with a lot of very good ideas himself, but who had to stand up and translate for me during my harangue above.