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In 2000, the MoEYS published a definition of the student-centered approaches in an orientation manual for grade five teachers. They defined the student-centered approaches to learning as educational approaches and methods of teaching and learning that basically concentrate on students' activities. In these approaches, students are required to have an active role and learn by themselves under the facilitation and scaffolding of their teacher. Through these activities students can learn through doing research individually or in groups, in or outside the classroom. It is believed that hearing 100 times doesn't equal to seeing once, but involving once is better than seeing 100 times (MoEYS, 2000).
In 2002 a MoEYS training manual for school principals provided the following description of the student-centered approaches. "It is a theory that is relevant to learning and teaching by focusing on students as the main factor'' (MoEYS, 2002a). According to a government ministry paper by Hab & Em (2003), the student-centered approaches are a means of teaching and learning where students are provided opportunities to have direct activities in learning such as thinking, exchanging ideas, discussion, doing experimentation and numerous opportunities for practice.
The student-centered approaches are educational methodologies that are used to achieve effective teaching and learning in schools. Students are motivated to have active participation by thinking and solving problem for themselves (MoEYS, 2005). Furthermore, the student-centered approaches not only refer to students' learning activities to explore their knowledge, but also focus on developing students to become citizens able to independently live, to take responsibility for what they have done, and able to live in the wider community (MoEYS, 2000).
The student-centered approaches are placed in the broad parameters of constructivism. Students are supported and motivated to use their existing knowledge and understanding to construct new meanings. Furthermore, the student-centered approaches can be seen in the principle behind UNICEF's child friendly school model promoted in Cambodia. A child-centered school:
encourages participation, creativity, self-esteem, and psycho-social well being; promotes a structured, child-centered curriculum and teaching learning methods appropriate to the child's developmental level, abilities, and learning style; and considers the needs of the children over the needs of the other actors in the system. The child-centered school promotes quality learning outcomes. It encourages children to think critically, ask questions, express their opinionsâ€¦ and learn how to learn (Courtney, 2008, p. 550).
After reviewing the Cambodian focused literature on the student-centered approaches, the writing on the student-centered approaches in international literature was not found to be significantly different from that found in Cambodian based literature. Both bodies of literatures stress the importance of students' active participation in the learning process and they contrast the traditional teacher-centered approaches. Furthermore, the student-centered approaches in both sets of literature have the same characteristics. For instance, their objectives are to improve students' competencies (knowledge, skills, and attitudes), and to provide opportunities to students to apply and demonstrate their knowledge through a variety of activities.
2.6 Implementation of the Student-Centered Approaches in Cambodia
The current official government approach to education has been informed by international developments in education. The Cambodian government conceptualized education as resting on four pillars, 1. Theoretical and practical knowledge, 2. Appropriate attitudes, values, and morals, 3. Knowing how to live together, and 4. Creating a learning culture. Education is required to have a permanent linkage with the wider Cambodian society (Ung, 2008). Education is viewed as being a process of life-long learning and students in the formal education sector are to be provided with the four pillars. In response to the ongoing process of social development as well as technological and economic development, the Ministry of Education plays an important role in producing human resources of quality, concentrates on reforming the school curriculum, and sets out its own educational policies and strategies outlined below:
Universalization of 9 years basic education and developing literacy skills and complementary education for those who are not able to access schooling
Modernization and reforming educational quality through the reform of the National curriculum
Linkage of education to labor market and society
Linkage and developing youth and sport (Ayres, 2000; MoEYS, 2004a)
Informed by these broad educational policies, the Ministry of Education in Cambodia from 1995 reformed the curriculum and chose the student-centered learning approaches as the prevailing teaching strategies to be implemented within Cambodian schools. The ministry attempted to strengthen the quality of learning and teaching through the reform of the national curriculum by publishing new text books for students and teachers as well as teacher training initiatives. The Ministry of Education, numerous aid agencies, and national and international organizations are actively involved in developing the existing school infrastructure such as improving classrooms, building schools, and providing funding to improve the quality of education (Ung, 2008).
In early 1996, the Ministry of Education cooperated with several international organizations including UNICEF, the European community, USAID (United States Agency for International Development), CAP, EQIP (Education Quality Improvement Project), and ADB (Asian Development Bank), and organized orientation courses for the use of the new curriculum and new student-centered teaching methodologies. In 1997, the Ministry of Education issued a declaration requiring teachers to apply the student-centered approaches in the learning and teaching process in all state run schools at all levels of the schooling sector. From 2002 until now, the MoEYS sends their officers from the Inspector's office to provide workshops on the use of the student-centered approaches to school principals and teachers as a mechanism for equipping current Cambodian teachers in the new teaching methods. Furthermore, in 2004, the Ministry of Education signed an agreement with VVOB intended to strengthen the quality of trainee teachers' training on applying the student-centered approaches in their teaching practice (MoEYS, 2008).
To improve the quality of the teaching and learning process, the MoEYS has worked cooperatively with many international NGOs and provided training on the student-centered approaches to many teachers and school principals. According to Courtney's study (2008), what the teachers received from the government sponsored training on the student-centered approaches was theory and characteristics. Those participating did not know what and how students learnt in the student-centered classroom. In Courtney's findings, teachers reported that they received little explanation about the student-centered teaching in terms of what and how students learn; instead they were given characteristics to demonstrate in the classroom in order to be judged as teaching in a student-centered way. Encouraging students to ask questions and discuss, arranging tables or students in groups, providing students with visual aids and lively classroom display were included as these characteristics. Their understanding of why as well as how to apply the student-centered approaches in the class was found to be limited, which in turn did not lead to the improvement of quality in the teaching and learning (Courtney, 2008). Similarly Bernard (2008) stated the progress in the second dimension of Child Friendly Schools, the effective learning and teaching, is acknowledged to be complex to achieve effectively. One of the reasons that affects this dimension is the narrow understanding of the student-centered approaches.
Furthermore, implementing student-centered approaches is not an easy task. It requires teachers to be well prepared which assumes planning time as part of the official teaching role. Moreover Northfield (as cited in Hand et al., 1997) stated that appropriate time is needed to be able to follow the activities within the classroom. It assumes teachers have access to appropriate teaching models, various kinds of tools, and an in-depth knowledge about the different personal background of all students (Gillani as cited in Brush and Saye, 2000). According to Brush and Saye (2000), there are difficulties in implementing the student-centered approaches. The content and activities may be too many with too little structure, it is not enough to adequately guide students towards successful completion of classroom activities, and there also needs to be a logical sequence to the planned activities that will result in the intended learning outcomes. Similarly according to the UNESCO yearly statistic book, text books consist of many contents and teacher's guidebooks have too little. Explanations and examples are not enough, it is therefore difficult for teachers to teach a lesson and apply the new methods. Furthermore in many schools there are more than 40 students in a class, so it is hard to teach the organization of the student-centered activities (UNESCO, 1999).
In addition to having student-centered classrooms, it is necessary to understand the wider school and classroom environment (Benveniste, Marshall, & Araujo, 2008). A class with a large number of students may be challenged when the student-centered approaches are implemented in teaching (Benveniste et al., 2008; American Institutes for Research under the EQIP1 LWA, 2006). Benveniste et al (2008) argued that a balanced teacher-student ratio allows teachers to provide sufficient attention to students' individual needs. Similarly according to a study in Malawi, class sizes present significant challenges to the application of the student-centered approaches. Class size is a challenge identified that hinders teachers from implementing effective group work which is one of the widely used strategies in student-centered classrooms (Mtika & Gates, 2010).
Moreover, Rogers, a twentieth century progressive philosopher, identified the freedom to learn and gave emphasis to the students' needs. Teachers have to do something to respond to their needs (MoEYS, 2002a). Rogers believes that students will achieve superior results along with growing personality in term of higher self-confidence, creativity, openness to their experience, self-respect towards others and their environment. To help students to be active in their learning, he suggests it is necessary having two resources: material resources and human resources. Benveniste et al (2008) argued that the basic elements for engagement in a teaching-learning relationship are appropriate physical facilities and availability of teaching aids. According to Peters' study, the most important factor in successful student-centered classroom may be the environment in the class which includes the physical setup of the room, and the role of the teacher and students in teaching and learning because they encourage students to involve and take responsibility for their learning (Peters, 2010). Similarly Jones (2007) stated that the teacher and the textbooks are significant resources because they become the guideline for students, help to control students' activities, and direct the learning process. Additionally Hand et al., (1997) argued that what may get students involved in learning is experimentation which provides students the opportunity to be able to understand and learn because experimentation is practical work.
Benvenist et al., (2008) stated that another dimension of teaching conditions and the classroom environment is the teacher's perceptions of the students' ability. High ability students are easier to teach than students who have greater difficulties. Vavrus stated that "some student teachers in Tanzania had faced similar challenges where pupils had strong reservation about the discovery method" (cited in Mtika and Gates, 2010, p.401). In addition, according to Blanchard et al and Songer et al (as cited in Peters, 2010), professional development efforts help teachers to move from a teacher-centered classroom to student-centered classroom. "Developing teacher competence in conducting such student-centered methods has the potential to encourage more inquiry in the science classroom" (Peters, 2010, p.331). The training activities help teachers to expand and improve their existing professional skills. According to Benveniste et al's study (2008), there are not many opportunities for in-service training for lower secondary teachers. The CESSP (Cambodia Education Sector Support Project) survey showed that only 15 percent of lower secondary teachers were provided opportunities to join professional development workshop during the 2005 and 2006 academic year.
Traditional political culture in Cambodia is one of the problems that affects the teaching and learning in school because authority and responsibilities are not easily transferred from the high level to the lower levels, for example to provincial, district, commune and school level. According to Morri and Pellini (as cited in Tan, 2008), the patronage system still exists in Cambodia and it challenges the country to actively participate in the process of political democratization. In this kind of political culture, the lower echelons of staff feel they have no power in the decision-making for their organization, especially at the school and classroom level. Ayres (2000) stated that Cambodian educational bureaucrats and those charged with educational policy formulation have been powerless to act, though they also know the costs of the irrelevance of education in Cambodia. Similarly Yeung (2009) stated that the student-centered approaches are hardly successful in implementing in teaching in Hong Kong because of its top down policy. Its educational policy making process is also highly centralized.
Another major problem found to be repeatedly reported by researchers of Cambodia's education system centers on the standard of a teacher's living. A common often reported complaint is that teachers' salaries are too low to support their family (Benveniste et al, 2008). Similarly, Ayres (2000) stated that insufficient salaries paid to teachers who are forced to work second jobs in order to support their family continually undermine classroom instruction. The tension therefore exists for teachers who want to effectively teach but who also need to generate adequate income to support their family. Time given to lesson preparation, reading professional literature, participating in professional development, engaging in professional conversations or pursuing some type of formal part time study must be balanced by the basic need to feed and house a family. A Cambodian expression reflects this tension well "An empty stomach has no power".