29 July 2012 ~ 2 Comments

Teacher Training in Cambodia (an idea)

Deciding what not to do is sometimes harder than deciding what to do, when you see many great possibilities for the future. I am surely having this problem with regards to post-gradschool life. And at PEPY, we reached many points where deciding how to move forward meant deciding which ideas NOT to do.

Here is an idea we decided not to pursue at PEPY, not because we didn’t feel like it would be a good path forward, but because we felt we didn’t have the bandwidth to take this on while pursuing other activities which fit more inline with our mission and skills.  I wanted to share it here in the hopes that it will help influence other organizations or people considering the problem of low impact paid training programs in Cambodia (and other places around the world), and maybe someone else will want to take ideas from this into their work moving forward.

The problem and proposed solution are all included in this presentation from the PEPY communications team (made about 1.5 years ago – thanks Elise & Jen!).

If you feel like passing the slideshare on, here is a short link for it:



  • Clive

    You obviously know better than me how training works in Cambodia but my immediate reaction is that the points scheme is wrong. My feeling is that extrinsic rewards or threats do not motivate the best teachers – their driver is the thought of improving their knowledge and skills and sharing them with others.

    A minor detail – I hope anyone adopting this scheme would compensate those who have walked or cycled to the centre equally, or more than, those who have come by (polluting) vehicle :)

  • Anonymous

    Both very valid points, Clive, which have premises I very much agree with. I think the ideal training program would be one where the schools or teachers themselves PAY for the training. If they value it, if they think it will bring them the impact they are looking for, etc – they pay to join. At PEPY Tours, we recently conducted a development education training and responsible tourism training course for tour guides and tourism staff and many companies and individual tour guides themselves paid for the course. That is ideal.

    The problem is that teachers are paid what is already below a living wage in many areas. So, to supplement their income, most teachers have another form of income (running a small shop with their family, farming, etc) or, in wealthier more urban areas, they often charge kids to take classes or charge for supplemental tutoring (while saving the real teaching for those paid classes), etc. To account for this, most training programs in Cambodia pay teachers to attend, which ends up, as the presentation shows, having people come only for the pay. Imagine if you are paying $20 for a weekend course on library management. When salaries are, for most, much less than $100 a month, who do you think the principal will send to library management training? Himself, of course, or his son who is a teacher, but not necessarily someone who will manage the library or who has interest in the topic.

    Ideally, teacher training would be run so well and give so much impact that people would pay for it, or come for free, with no fee to pay but no payment either. At PEPY, we switched to a model where we didn’t pay for our trainings, and as assumed, this meant that the more motivated teachers would show up. But the reality still was that many of them incurred costs to get there, and there were some who lived far away and the cost of fuel to get there was prohibitive. Hence, the payment for travel (which usually happens as a financial payment – but to avoid people coming only for that payment, the fuel itself would be replaced based on the transport distance, rather than cash). Most families in the areas where we work don’t have a motorbike – but teachers often have to travel far from their homes to schools, or from their schools to a training etc, and these are dirt roads with many kilometers between schools. For some, if they didn’t have a motorbike, they couldn’t physically get there. I am all about sustainable transport, but the idea was to be able to offer a course that the most motivated teachers would come to – and if the barrier to entry for the most motivated teacher whose school is 8km away from the main hub school where the training is conducted is fuel, then I would be happy to provide that fuel to give them the opportunity to learn where as the person who walked a kilometer to get there didn’t have that cost to incur. In effect, if we didn’t give fuel, we’d be favoring the people who lived closest to the main town and making it so that the teachers teaching in the most remote locations, who are the least likely to get support, couldn’t join.

    If we were going to best align incentives, as I agree with you at external incentives are the problem here, we wouldn’t pay for the training at all – even post “passing” the exam – and this has been a huge debate at PEPY for years. I almost always fall on the “don’t pay at all” side. The thing is, even my mother who was a teacher for 38 years in the US gets paid to go to courses. So this is more of a “better than” alternative – rather than a “best” alternative – to the current model typically used in Cambodia. We’re saying – rather than pay people if they turn up, if you are going to pay anyway, at least hold that off until they have turned up, learned, and proven that they are able to implement what they learn before you pay.

    I hope that answers some of your questions and addresses your concerns, which I share as well!