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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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SeeBeyondBorders: Australian teachers in Cambodia


SeeBeyondBorders is an Australian charitable foundation providing children in Cambodia with access to quality teaching and learning at school. It currently supports 11,000 Cambodian children in 50 primary schools and has trained 275 teachers, with 54 receiving additional training as mentors. This has been achieved with donated funds and volunteers, including teachers who donate their time and know-how to 'Teach the Teacher' professional development programs in Cambodia. Through the medium of primary maths Australian teachers give their Cambodian counterparts tools for teaching that are then easily integrated into the Cambodian classrooms.

Although based in NSW, teachers from other states are welcome to apply and training for groups can be provided across Australia.

Social and educational conditions in Cambodia

Cambodia is still recovering from the terrible setbacks it encountered decades ago. The country was ruled by the extremist, Khmer Rouge, between 1974 and 1979, and during these years an estimated two million Cambodians were killed. The rest of the population was forced to work in rice fields or other forms of labour camps; books and money were burned and symbols of education and development destroyed. The Khmer Rouge took power in the closing stages of the Vietnam War. It is estimated that nearly one million Cambodians died during the course of the war.

Needless to say, the death of most of the country's teachers during these tragic times brought immense damage to the education system. Most international aid organisations agree that strong health and education systems are the two biggest key factors in establishing Cambodia as a modern, self-sufficient country.

In Cambodia's education system today, low enrolments, high dropout rates and high repetition rates in public schools are problems compounded by low teacher salaries and an environment where transparency, accountability and recognition of ability are difficult to achieve. Currently just over 30 per cent of children attend grade 7.

SeeBeyondBorders aims to empower and educate Cambodian teachers so that the education system can be sustainably improved across the country.

Professional development for Australian volunteer teachers

Australian volunteer teachers initially participate in professional development over three separate days, preparing them to facilitate the maths workshops in Cambodia. These preparatory workshops are endorsed by the NSW Institute of Teachers as Institute Registered professional development at Professional Competence level (22.5 hours).

The NSW Institute of Teachers also recognises the volunteers' facilitation of the workshops in Cambodia as 'teacher identified' professional development. To qualify, teachers must seek the approval of their principal, independently identify the standards and elements addressed, and negotiate the number of hours. The three preparatory workshops in Australia are a compulsory part of the program and a prerequisite for running workshops in Cambodia.

Participation in the 'Teach the Teacher' program

At this stage SeeBeyondBorders is giving priority to experienced primary trained teachers, with early grade maths as the focus. However, since an important focus of the workshops is pedagogy, as well as actual content, the organisation also considers applications from secondary trained teachers who can demonstrate excellent pedagogical skills in maths and/or experience in delivering professional development workshops.

In line with requests from Cambodian partner organisations, SeeBeyondBorders's longer-term plan is to expand the program to include literacy, personal development and health, and integrated unit programs, at which time it will also be actively recruiting secondary teachers for those projects.

Resources to facilitate teaching and teacher professional development

Without the use of appropriate types of resources, students have little if any exposure to a concrete understanding of number and space. Such an understanding is vital before a student can progress to related abstract concepts, such as the algorithms as found in Khmer textbooks. The program therefore provides locally produced resource packs to assist teachers to introduce 'child-centred' learning into their classrooms.

While maths is the key focus area, pedagogical skills such as questioning and classroom and resource management are naturally translatable to other contexts and curriculum areas.

Battambang and Siem Reap workshops, January 2011, Cambodia

The Battambang and Siem Reap maths workshops in January 2011 involved a large group with 10 teachers and 12 non-teachers. In both of the workshops, participants were introduced to a new resource book produced by SeeBeyondBorders, which complements the Khmer curriculum and the mandated maths workbooks provided by the government.

These workshops were very successful. The Khmer teachers initially found the concept of planning difficult, particularly when they tried 'backward mapping' from the workbook to the resource book, so a more simplified 'visual' planning proforma was introduced, which was very well received.

For the first time art and PE workshops were included. In the art workshop all the teachers were taught how to sketch realistic 3D shapes, using charcoal from the campfire. The PE workshop introduced the teachers to a raft of group games and activities, covering a wide range of skills. The Cambodian teachers also shared their own games with the volunteers and each other.

SeeBeyondBorders has received outstanding feedback from partner organisations and the Khmer teachers themselves. Originally this program was run only in Battambang and Siem Reap, but due to its success it has been extended to include Kompong Cham and Ratanakiri provinces, where SeeBeyondBorders works with Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) and Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE).

Achieving sustainability: the mentor program

In October 2011 SeeBeyondBorders introduced a mentor training program for Khmer teachers identified as having potential to assist their peers. Mentor training is an essential component for the sustainability of the maths training program. Three SeeBeyondBorders trained supervisors rotate around the schools in the program to act in an advisory/trainer capacity for the local teacher mentors in the schools.

Sustainability is only achievable where dependency is at a minimum and a clear exit pathway is identified. However, sustainability is also dependent on mutual respect and dignity. SeeBeyondBorders therefore encourages a personal engagement from supporters and participants, fostering the notion that we have a responsibility towards those who have nothing by comparison to ourselves.

Chrok Sdeak
Junior Secondary School, Cambodia

SeeBeyondBorders visited Chrok Sdeak Junior Secondary School in October 2011. The school had recently been completed by SeeBeyondBorders thanks to the generosity of a British cartoonist who is very keen to see a visual arts program developed at the school. So, equipped with materials purchased at the markets in Phnom Penh, staff drove for two and a half hours in the back of a ute through flood waters to meet the teachers and their students.

The prospect of using oil pastel crayons and watercolour paint for the very first time was almost too much for some children who hovered for ages with hand poised, not game to make a mark on the pure white paper. The children were invited to create an artwork about something special in their lives. Many of them produced beautiful artworks of their homes, the rice fields and streams, and their animals. The students said that they drew a lot at home, but never with colour. Some of them were truly gifted artists who were totally absorbed in their work.

The SeeBeyondBorders organisation

SeeBeyondBorders was founded in 2009 by Kate and Edward Shuttleworth. It is divided into SeeBeyondBorders Australia (SBBA) and SeeBeyondBorders Foundation Australia (SBBFA). The role of the Board is to manage the regulatory and compliance issues facing the organisation as well as to establish and monitor the business plan. The activities of SBBFA are guided by the Advisory Committee which currently comprises nine members including the Board. Members of the Advisory Committee are drawn from a variety of walks of life and their role is to provide expertise, practical support and guidance with regard to the mission of the organisation.

How Australian teachers may participate

For further information about SeeBeyondBorders and the upcoming Teach the Teacher trips please visit: http://www.seebeyondborders.org/index.php/trips/upcoming_trips/. Alternatively, call Jo Forbes, 02 9960 7077, or email teachers@seebeyondborders.org

This rewarding experience offers an opportunity to increase the skills of the Cambodian teachers, network with other Australian teachers and get close to the heart of this amazing country. 

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Professional development
Mathematics teaching
Primary education
Teaching profession