TEFL Success Stories – Part 41

Lynda – Cambodia

I arrived in Siem Reap three weeks ago with the temperature during the day reaching too close to a humid 40°C for comfort. I, along with all the other volunteers here, thought I would be assisting local teachers and monks to teach English to orphans and vulnerable children.

In reality, there are no local teachers or monks, and the volunteers (some of whom have no previous teaching experience) are the teachers. Classrooms are very basic – some in bamboo huts with no electricity, some without basic desks or benches to sit on. To maximize the number of children who have access to English lessons, 40–60 minute sessions are repeated several times a day, Monday to Friday. The routine is interrupted occasionally by tropical rain storms which flood the mud roads and make it impossible for some of the children to travel from surrounding villages to reach class. The resources available are white boards, exercise books and pencils.

Much is left to the initiative of the volunteers, and several of my colleagues have been involved in delousing sessions and transporting children to the opticians, as it doesn’t take any teacher training to recognize when a child can’t see the board! The eye tests, the spectacles when required and transport via a tuk-tuk (a two-wheeled carriage attached to a motorbike) were paid for by volunteers. It’s difficult to even attempt to describe the enthusiasm and determination these children have to study even though they live in such poverty. The broad smiles of absolute delight when lessons begin would be alien to the majority of harassed teachers in the tougher schools back home.


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As volunteers, we could choose to plod along and work with the disorganization in which we find ourselves. However the children do not deserve anything less than our best and many of the volunteers, who are only here for two weeks, would benefit from a much more structured approach to lesson planning. The standard of the volunteers is very high and there is no lack of enthusiasm but when one person moves on, no official handover takes place with the new person coming in. The result is that the children are either being taught the same thing over and over again or there is a huge gap in the level of English taught from one volunteer to the next. Also the local teachers who should be learning how to teach English alongside the volunteers, are feeling isolated because of the lack of continuity.

As part of my contribution while I am here I have decided to put together teaching folders with lesson plans and resource references which will be available for the local teachers and the volunteers to use. Each class has five English language lessons per week. In primary school, this is 40–50 minutes per lesson and in secondary school (to 16 years old) it’s 60 minutes.

I would welcome suggestions for any websites or books which could speed up the production of this resource. Although the book shop in Bangkok is very good, many of the books have the CDs missing. This type of resource would be of enormous benefit to Khmer teachers who are learning the language while teaching it. Any suggestions for how to access audio teaching materials without me having to spend the whole of my savings at the start of my trip would also be appreciated.

My friend and I are about to start a six month voluntary placement in Siem Reap, starting 1st October 2007. We will be teaching English to street children and orphans. At least, that’s what we thought we would be doing until recently, but the remit has become a lot broader. Let me introduce the two of us properly and give you some background to our trip.

I have worked in education (as a secondary school geography teacher) and social housing over the past 20 years. Gill has gained a wide range of skills and experience working in the supported housing / care sector for 20 years. In 2005 we both decided to take a career break and went travelling for a year. During this trip we visited Cambodia and our experience there convinced us to complete a Teaching English as a Second Language course in the UK, and return to Cambodia as soon as possible. In 2006 we both received a CELTA – ESOL Language Teaching qualification from Oxford House College in Central London.

We spent a lot of time investigating organizations before making a decision about who we were prepared to approach for voluntary positions. Many organizations charge volunteers a lot of money and very little of this goes to the community in which you would be working. The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that we will be working for in Siem Reap is called Globalteer. Their philosophy is very much about supporting local staff and creating systems and services that will be sustainable at a local level.

The work Globalteer does in Cambodia includes a free education programme, the management of orphanages and a day centre for street children.

As I stated earlier, the remit for our voluntary placement in Siem Reap now involves much more than simply supporting local teaching staff in the school. The increase in human trafficking in the area means that the street children are facing increasing danger. We have been asked to develop policies and procedures for use within the school, orphanages and the day centre. This work will include teaching the children about the dangers they may face from tourists as well as locals. There is also a lot of training to be completed with the staff in all the schemes.

Cambodia has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in Asia. The Khmer Rouge put anyone suspected of having an education to death, thus devastating the numbers of teachers in the country. Today 80% of Cambodia’s primary school teachers have only attended lower secondary school. If you add the lack of resources to this, our aim to support local teaching staff in schools will be a far greater task than we initially envisaged. What Cambodia does have, however, is a population who are desperate to learn, not only in their own language, but also in English. There is a strong culture of self-improvement amongst Cambodians, and they are fully aware that the key to getting on in the world is knowledge of the English language. English not only dominates commerce but also tourism, the country’s most rapidly growing industry.

As you can gather, I am at the start of what will hopefully be a productive and enjoyable journey.


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