Cambodia’s future

Transforming Education in Cambodia

Colm Byrne believes supporting and mentoring local teachers makes sustainable change possible for the Cambodian education system.

A monumental challenge

Of all the countries that have experienced extreme trauma to their educational system, few, if any, have suffered on a scale comparable to Cambodia. 90% of teachers were among the 1.7 million killed during the time of the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago and the entire system was completely and purposefully dismantled. The majority of Khmer people who survived this devastating period are illiterate and half of current Cambodian primary teachers did not complete secondary school themselves.

Today Cambodia has a myriad of societal problems including high rates of domestic abuse, widespread poverty and corruption. Nothing is as vital to Cambodia’s future prospects as improving its education system. Our development organisation is seeking to transform the educational system here through improving teacher capacity. The challenge is monumental but recent progress is heartening.

Learning Crisis

Access to school is not a problem here. Access to quality schooling is. Enrolment rates for early years are high (98%), but less than half of Cambodian children stay long enough to reach secondary school. The reason for this is clear: many children are not learning in school. Cambodia is one of the developing countries which the World Bank recently described as experiencing a “learning crisis”. Fewer than 3% of Cambodian children reach minimum standards in literacy and maths by age 15. There is little incentive for children and parents to value education when progress is not made in school. The lure of short term economic alleviation is appealing for impoverished families, and young people who forgo education to work in the rice fields, emigrate to the more prosperous Thailand or Vietnam.

Teachers Teachers Teachers

At SeeBeyondBorders we recognise the teacher as the most important resource in any education system and upskilling, supporting and mentoring teachers are central to all of our programmes. Teachers cannot teach effectively if they do not understand the content which they are meant to be teaching. We address this challenge through upskilling teachers at special workshops. These workshops in isolation are not enough however. Through experience we have learned that for change to be sustainable a longer term systemic model is needed. Quality teaching cannot take place in a country like Cambodia without teachers receiving ongoing and sustained support in their classrooms. More information on the Quality Teaching Programme can be found here.

Mentoring for sustainability

Our NGO uses a Quality Teaching Programme which has school based mentoring at its core. Over five hundred teachers have been supported as they put learned skills from workshops into action by a structure of mentor and senior mentor teachers in their school. These mentor teachers are all trained by our staff in mentoring, collaboration and coaching. Each mentor teacher then works with a group of two to three mentee teachers for a minimum period of 3 years building a community of practice.

Over the course of the programme we assess both the mentee teacher and mentor teacher to ensure continuous improvement. Our Cambodian staff visit schools on a regular basis to offer support and carry out assessments. Teachers can then use these skills to develop other teachers in local school systems. I have seen first-hand the real and incremental progress which mentoring can provide. This approach not only professionally develops teachers but also creates sustainable change for the Cambodian education system as a whole.

Impact on learning outcomes for children

Improving teaching standards is singularly the most important factor in improving learning outcomes for children. Its importance cannot be underestimated. Through the quality teaching programme, learning outcomes for children are not enhanced – rather they are transformed. Test scores have improved on average by 45 percentage points for children in Grades 1 to 3. Children who begin a learning journey in primary school, are more likely to attend and ultimately progress to secondary school.

With more help we can do more

Our message to the readers of International Teacher Magazine is simple – with more help we can do more! Please do not think you cannot make an impact on our small niche charity. You can.

Below we have listed some practical ways you can make a direct impact on our work. We are always open to other ideas so please do get in touch with us if you have any thoughts:

  • Organise a fundraiser in your school. $1,500 can offer mentoring support to a teacher and benefit 40 children
  • Boost our profile by hosting an awareness raising event e.g. a connection webinar between your country and Cambodia, a food sale with Asian dishes
  • Spread our message on Social Media
  • Introduce us to your contacts

Thank you for considering our special project

Colm Byrne is a teacher from Ireland and has lived in Cambodia since 2014. He is the CEO of SeeBeyondBorders a UNESCO Award Winning NGO dedicated to improving education for children in the Kingdom of Wonder.

With more, SeeBeyondBorders can do more – contact, visit our website or follow our journey on Social Media at


SeeBeyondBorders are the charity partner of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) for 2022-23. COBIS partners with organisations that improve the education and welfare of children and communities, increase access to educational opportunities and/or raise standards of education globally.

All images kindly provided by SeeBeyondBorders

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