Cambodian Upper Secondary School Education amid COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges and Opportunities
The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) was announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020. Its presence has created significant disturbances across society and particularly within education. On 16 March 2020, as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) decided to close all educational institutions. However, in an effort to continue providing education services to students, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) alongside relevant stakeholders made significant efforts to adopt distance learning. The rapid adoption of technology in order to provide distance teaching and learning created challenges for teachers and students. The present study investigates the impact COVID-19 has had on teachers and students in upper secondary education, specifically focusing on the relative challenges teachers and students encountered during school closures and possible opportunities created by the pandemic.
This study employed quantitative research methods with both descriptive and inferential statistics used to examine the challenges and opportunities teachers and students faced. This study identified several types of challenges that teachers and students experienced during the school closure. Specifically, the problems teachers and students encountered in their teaching and learning processes are referred to as academic challenges. Hardships attributed to decreases in household income, difficulty in managing earnings and spending etc., were considered to be economic challenges. This study also highlights the high stress and anxiety levels teachers and students experienced referring to them separately as mental health challenges. Opportunities consisted of practical benefits—both academically and socially—that teachers and students gained as a result of their work-related activities or from social activities during the outbreak. The data analysis draws on survey data from 685 teachers and 2,804 students from upper secondary schools in Cambodia primarily collected between July and August 2022.
The findings showed that both teachers and students experienced decidedly challenging situations. For example, both in terms of how students interacted with each other and how teachers interacted with students, everyone struggled to manage teaching and learning remotely primarily stemmed from their difficulties in handling their teaching and learning using technology and digital devices. In addition, disruptions to teaching and learning due to poor internet connections, electricity cut-offs, and/or noisy environments were quite distracting during online instruction. Economically, both teachers and students experienced declines in family income and increasing prices for hygiene products, water and/or electricity, and distance learning materials. Furthermore, lack of food among family members and difficulty paying off loans were also noted as challenges by teachers and students. For students, the difficulties they experienced varied based on their location. Students residing in disadvantaged areas (rural and suburban areas) had to respond to more challenges than those in advantaged areas (urban areas).
Both teachers and students experienced some level of mental challenges as well. Significant numbers of teachers and students experienced moderate to extremely severe stress and anxiety levels. Teachers and students who live in the capital, Phnom Penh, reported experiencing greater mental challenges than in other areas of Cambodia. Although significant challenges were universally reported, teachers and students also acknowledged potential opportunities. Academically, they gained new knowledge and skills related to ICT in educational settings, and socially, they were able to strengthen their mental and social well-being in themselves and their family members. viii Cambodian Upper Secondary School Education amid COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges and Opportunities.
Based on its findings, this study offers some recommendations for both education policymakers and teacher training centres. The development and creation of e-learning materials and technologies should continue to be developed since they may serve as supplementary teaching and learning resources not only for the present day but also when similar situations happen in the future. Teacher training programmes in technical skills, particularly focusing on ICT for education, should be enacted place for both In-Service Training (INSET) and Pre-Service Training (PRESET). Moreover, equipping every school with ICT facilities across the country should be planned so that the education system can respond to unpredictable events in the future. Cambodia should take this opportunity to transition from traditional classroom setups towards a mixture of teaching and learning environments, like blended learning.
MoEYS and relevant stakeholders should promote mental health education to educate teachers and students to maintain their mentally healthy or cope with stress and anxiety during times of crisis. Online mental health consultation services from professional psychologists for teachers and students should be considered as an effective measure to support everyone in the learning environment.