Ministry of Education

mickyatesCambodia, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Education, ICWeek5, Ideas, Informing Contexts, Plans & Notes 1 Comment

Beng Simeth, who was at Save the Children in Phnom Penh when we first started the program, has been the education program leader for the World Bank for many years. He thus works alongside Sarath on the Secondary Education Improvement Program (SEIP).

Simeth and I drove up to Siem Reap on Sunday, and we talked pretty much for the whole trip about schools. He explained how SEIPs core idea is to get much closer community involvement with the schools, whilst also doing a better job at assessing teacher performance and thus delivering higher quality education. This uses the World Bank’s SABER program (Systems Approach for Better Education Results), and focuses on the 3 As – Assessment, Authority and Accountability.

At the moment, there are 100 schools being developed to use test this approach in Cambodia, and Sarath is responsible for the implementation, reporting directly to the Minister of Education. The plan is to cover 500 schools in two years. Cambodia, though, has 10,000+ schools. There has been resistance to the approach, with many School Principals not wanting to loose control of their schools – added to a fear of change. Yet early results are extremely promising.

For several years, Simeth has been using the 4Es Leadership Framework that was the subject of my MSc research at Oxford/HEC, in 2003/4. This week, in Siem Reap, he and Sarath were running a workshop with the key Ministry personnel to work out how to do a better job of implementation of SEIP and to speed up the rollout. Simeth planned to again use the Framework, as leadership is critical to making SEIP happen.

The Secretary of State for Education, HE Nat Bunroeun was attending the workshop, a sign of its importance.

Keo Sarath, Nat Bunroeun, Beng Simeth

To my surprise, with just ‘overnight warning’, Simeth asked me if I would talk to the group (about 50 people). Initially, he wanted me to just address leadership, but in considering how to get all levels of the school’s organisation across the country to ‘buy in’, it seemed we needed to cover much more to be most helpful.

I was pleased to be able to do this, even with almost zero prep time. We covered leadership, building on Simeth’s presentations. Other topics included change processes, specially how to persuade people, and the difference between strategy and execution. I also discussed stakeholder management. Businesses have customers, shareholders, employees and the community. Schools have children, funding, teachers and parents.

I related at each stage to my understanding of specific issues and concerns in the Cambodian education system. And I offered a tool – the OGSM (Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures) as a way to both force clarity of strategic plans and cascade them through the organisation. I first learnt this tool at P&G – but oldies are sometimes goldies.

In particular, I stressed my view that the decision needs to be taken as to what the overall goal is of education in Cambodia. In my view, education is not there to teach children by rote and repetition – it should be there to help children think for themselves and be creative.

I am minded here of the analysis in David Ayres‘ excellent book, Anatomy of a Crisis, that the Cambodian education system historically has always been about ensuring social harmony and ‘keeping people in their rightful place’.

A spirited discussion ensued, and the feedback was gratifyingly positive. The team will be using some of the tools and ideas in the creation of a formal plan, to be presented asap to the Minister of Education, and probably the Prime Minister. Simeth will also use this in International Funding proposals.

So, what has this got to do with my photography MA?

I have mentioned several times that as the project has progressed, my roles as educator and photographer have been a bit blurred. However, I now see that the core narrative I am pursuing is about people that suffered dreadfully, yet in dedicating their lives to education are offering hope. Thus, there isn’t a conflict between educator and photographer – it is a necessary connection.

In planning the book, and the photography, there is thus this ‘working sequence’:

  • History – Sarath’s family
  • Facts about the Genocide
  • Sarath’s personal stories
  • Present (and future) – education and hope


AYRES, David M. 2000. Anatomy of a Crisis. Education, Development and the State in Cambodia, 1953-1998. 2003 Edition. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

World Bank. 2016. SABER: School Autonomy and Accountability. Available at: (accessed 26/02/2019).

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