The Value of Education
It’s easy to overlook the obvious. We assume that childhood and schooling go hand in hand and you can’t have one without the other. Our experience during the pandemic reinforced our appreciation of the value of education. More than ever, we regard schools as fundamental to the proper functioning of society and teachers as essential workers.
Why do we place such a high value on the quality of education especially for the young? Most would say that it’s obvious; our children deserve to be nurtured and developed so they can be successful and fulfil their potential as people. Children love to learn as much as they need to learn.
Without doubt, once basic and home needs are satisfied, access to a fully trained, well resourced teacher is the single most important ingredient for childhood flourishing.
The Education Crisis in Cambodia
- The average Cambodian child will spend less than 5 years in school
- Less than 3% of children reach the internationally accepted minimum standards for maths and literacy.
- Most teachers (79%) have no graduate qualifications.
- The situation has worsened since the pandemic. International tourism, a major contributor to the weak economy, has been devastated and the schools have been closed for 170 days and counting.
Teachers are Key
Access to good quality teaching is at the heart of the solution.
Throughout the notorious Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime – which started in 1975 and did not really come to an end until 1998 – teachers, professionals and academics were systematically targeted and murdered. It was a forceful and concentrated effort to deny education and stifle opposition to the ultra marxist idealism of Pol Pot and his followers.
The damage continues to impact on the children of Cambodia today.
Imagine if all our teachers and university lecturers, including those who train teachers, were wiped out!
Apart from the obvious human tragedy there would be a devastating loss of know-how and expertise. Any attempt to rebuild and reinstate an education system would be seriously hampered by the absence of experienced teachers at all levels. This is happening in Cambodia.
The loss goes well beyond the technical skills and competences of teaching. There is also trauma to the professional identity of teachers. To put it quite bluntly ‘how can you know what it means to be a good teacher if you have never had access to one’.
Furthermore, teaching is not a commodity, it cannot be exported, imposed or substituted by technology. Every society needs its own teachers. That is the essence of education. As John Dewey in Democracy and Education puts it:
Society exists through a process of transmission quite as much as biological life. This transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger. Without this communication of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, opinions, from those members of society who are passing out of the group life to those who are coming into it, social life could not survive. (p 6)
Irish Educators Can Help
As fellow teachers and educators, we need to embrace our colleagues in Cambodia. They have suffered an absolute loss of pedagogy. However, it can be recovered through appropriate training and support.
Cambodian teachers grapple with the economic and social challenges of living in one of the world’s least developed countries. Yet they are passionate and committed to the success of the students in their care.
For many years, Irish teachers have been involved in supporting the professional development of teachers in Cambodia. Maire and I visited SeeBeyondBorders in Siem Reap in 2019.
SeeBeyondBorders was founded by Kate and Ed Shuttleworth in 2009 and since then it has developed a network of supports for schools and teachers in Cambodia.
As they state in their mission “Our biggest priority is to create positive, systemic, and sustainable change in Cambodia.”
SeeBeyondBorders is already established as a charity in Australia and the UK and just recently it registered as a charity in Ireland. Colm Byrne is an educator and teacher and now CEO of SeeBeyondBorders in Ireland. He is based in Cambodia and is best placed to describe the significance of the support of the Irish educator community.
Here is a Linkedin post where Colm Byrne describes the work they are doing.
Here is a link to the Mick Clifford podcast featuring Colm Byrne.
There is also an event next week called Conversations about the impact of inequality on education on July 7th at 10am Irish time. You can use this link to register.