In my last post (The state of teaching and learning in Cambodian higher education), I broke down what Cambodian stakeholders had observed as issues and challenges concerning teaching and learning in Cambodian universities and what they wanted to see changed. I somehow stopped short of giving my thoughts about a solution. Below is my personal opinion about one thing Cambodia should consider doing to improve teaching and learning in universities.
I believe that promoting an effective teaching and learning in Cambodia requires a new way of thinking or a change of behavior that involves a close look at some cultural values deeply embedded in Cambodian society.
Don’t get me wrong, Cambodia has a rich culture that has spanned more than two thousand years, and every Cambodian (myself included) is proud of it. But as the culture is splendid in myriad ways, I would like to argue that its hierarchical, patronage, and masculine values somehow hinder how teaching and learning in higher education are carried out.
One way or the other, the hierarchical aspect encourages and reinforces passive learning from low to postsecondary levels. That is because, from a very young age, Cambodian children are taught to accept their hierarchical rank – to be obedient to their parents and teachers without any questions. At home and school, children are always expected to be quiet and to listen rather than speak. So they seemed to be stuck in their rank.
Although a new way of learning and teaching has been introduced in Cambodian classrooms, the students still did not want to participate in their learning process. They kept conforming to and recognizing the traditional norm; they did not want or found it hard to change. Female students find speaking in class, expressing and sharing ideas even more difficult than males due to a high expectation placed on them in the traditional moral code of behavior. All this runs counter to the education paradigm that encourages students to participate actively in the learning and teaching process.
Echoing the voices and concerns of many stakeholders, we all should be open to letting our children express themselves more in their daily interaction from a very young age. A time when parents stare at their children when they want to say something alone with parents or in guest or adult’s accompany should be over. The development and implementation of student-centered learning activities/curricula in and outside the class still need promoting to ensure students not just participating but also do so with creativity, initiation, and confidence.