Education and Aspirations – Contribution of Monirath Siv

Contribution of Monirath Siv, CEO and founder of Teach of Cambodia

The CEO and founder of Teach For Cambodia, a local organisation seeking to build leaders and advocates for educational equity and excellence, Monirath Siv has dedicated his professional life to education. He served as a secondary science teacher with Teach For America and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Sound macroeconomic policy has allowed Cambodia to achieve strong economic growth over the past two decades. In 2016, Cambodia graduated from low-income to lower-middle-income status. Our economic outlook is likely to remain robust with the Asian Development Bank forecasting GDP growth to continue at 7.1%. Looking forward, our goal is to become a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this, we need leaders at all levels to stay focused on accelerating the implementation of reforms that enhance productivity and increase the capacity of our human capital.

For sustaining growth over the medium- to long-term, Cambodia must prioritise economic diversifcation, industrialisation, increased productivity and competitiveness. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) Report 2016-2017, Cambodia ranked 89 of 187 countries, but showed the largest GCI improvement since 2007 among Asian nations. Cambodia’s four critical drivers of competitiveness were identifed as institutions, infrastructure, health and primary education. Yet, our “mean years” of schooling remain at only 4.4 years as of 2014. Given that Cambodia has the youngest population in Asia with a median age of 23.8, improving educational outcomes at all levels is fundamental to our future growth.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and broader regional integration offer big opportunities and challenges for Cambodia. The AEC will increase intra-ASEAN trade, investment and development cooperation. There will also be freer movement of some skilled labour across ASEAN. Cambodia must prepare to be much more competitive and address the skills gap or it will be at a disadvantage in this new economic reality.

Our current Minister for Education has championed a number of reforms, including teacher recruitment and training, and developing a new generation of public schools. His success in eliminating widespread cheating and corruption in the national exams symbolises his commitment to improving educational outcomes.

How can Cambodia maximise the opportunity to become more competitive and advance education reform priorities? An intentional approach to developing local leaders across all levels and areas impacting education—including schools, government, technology and social entrepreneurship—is needed. A welleducated and trained workforce equipped with relevant 21st century skills—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity—has the potential to accelerate progress in our country. A 2010 McKinsey & Company report analysed 20 education systems and found that “leadership is essential not only in sparking reform but in sustaining it” and that “improving systems actively cultivates the next generation of system leaders, ensuring a smooth transition of leadership and the longer-term continuity in reform goals.”

One effective place to develop local leaders is in the classroom where the needs start. Currently, four ASEAN member states (Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) are enlisting a diverse pool of their nation’s future leaders—outstanding graduates and young professionals—into a public-private partnership programme that places leaders to teach in high-needs classrooms for an initial two years to learn and develop at the grassroots level, fostering them to become longterm leaders and advocates for education. In the past three years, I’ve worked with the Education Ministry and the private sector to adapt this model for our national context and will soon launch and grow this programme in Cambodia. I am also engaging regionally with these programme leaders and the ASEAN Secretariat with the goal to share, cooperate, learn, and build a regional identity, especially among a new generation of leaders.

As a former teacher with Teach For America, I know that teaching successfully in a troubled community can build the foundation for lifetime leadership and advocacy. Experiences gained can improve the education system and help the country reach its social and economic aspirations.