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Cambodia was once known as Khmer Kingdom, one of the most powerful kingdoms in Southeast Asia (Ayres, 2003). However, one of the worst historical tragedies was during the Khmer Rouge regime when it was a period of almost not understandable social change, which traditional social relations were forgotten, the nation's based economy was destroyed, and the former education system was not followed (Ayres, 2003).
However, the school was reopened for the academic year 1979 - 1980 on September 24, 1979 (Ayres, 2003). In order to develop Cambodia, the government needs to pay a main focus on education system as a human resource center to meet the demand or need of the society (MoEYS, 2004). That was why, from 1979 to present, the structure of the general education has changed three times, from 1979 to 1986, 10 year educational system: 4+3+3, from 1986 to 1996, 11 year educational system: 5+3+3, and from 1996 to the present, 12 year educational system: 6+3+3 (MoEYS, 2007). Since 2000, MoEYS has been interested in a policy-based sector-wide reform, followed by a five year Education Strategic Plan (ESP) and Education Sector Support Program (ESSP), in order to achieve Education for All (EFA). In this education reform, curriculum plays a vital role in providing the quality and efficiency of education (MoEYS, 2004).
So, what is a curriculum? In fact, various scholars have given different definitions to the term 'curriculum.' However, in this paper, I have selected five definitions from different individuals. First, curriculum is a plan or program of experiences which the learner goes though under the direction of a school (Tanner & Tanner, 1995).Second, according to Gatawa (1990), curriculum is the totality of the experiences of children for which schools are responsible. Also, for Beach and Reinhatz (1989), a curriculum outlines a prescribed series of a course to take. Besides, curriculum has the purpose to make all young people become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (HMIE, 2008). Last but not least, the term curriculum is used to describe everything children do, see, hear or feel in their setting, both planned and unplanned (QCA, 2000).
The following are four supporting questions which have been developed for this short research:
What are the reasons to develop a curriculum?
What are the differences between the previous and current curricula?
What are the teaching methodologies?
What are the challenges in implementing a curriculum?
II. Curriculum development in the last decade (2000 - 2010)
1- Reasons for curriculum development
There are many reasons to develop a new curriculum, depending on the demands of each institution. For example, the curriculum development is central to the learning and teaching process, and includes all the planning and guiding of learning by a training or teaching organization, whether it is carried out in groups or individually, inside or outside a classroom in an instructional setting (Rogers & Taylor, 1998). Also, the reform of the curriculum is essential to the creation of a new vocational education system since it is the basic and primary element of educational changes (Shao & Bruening, 2000). But for Cambodia, some different reasons also lead to curriculum development. First, it follows the Constitution as the article 66 of the Constitution states:
"The State shall establish a comprehensive and standardized educational system throughout the country that shall guarantee the principles of educational freedom and equality to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunity to earn a living."
Source: UNESCO (2010)
Moreover, according to MoEYS, its vision is mentioned as developing and establishing human resources of the highest quality and ethics in order to develop a knowledge-based society, and its mission is stated as leading and developing the education, youth and sport sector in Cambodia and to respond to the socio-economic and cultural development needs and the reality of globalization. In addition, the mission of leading, managing, developing and providing education to the children of Cambodia is the responsibility of MoEYS (ADB, 2007). To reach these vision and mission, the development of the school curriculum is the focal and important point of the effort (MoEYS, 2004). In addition, as stated in the policies and strategies in Education Strategic Plan 2006 - 2010 (ESP), there are a lot of reforms made in order to reach the six EFA Dakar goals, (MoEYS, 2005). In fact, there are five basic rules of curriculum development, such as the curriculum should be related to the understanding of a average student, it should be based on what educators want students to know and to do, both students and teachers should be in unity in work, evaluation should indicate that students can perform a specific task, and a relevant curriculum should be bettered across the whole school (NTPC, 2001).
2- Previous curriculum versus current curriculum
There are various subjects for students to study in different times. For example, for the post-1979 primary education, there were Moral Education, Khmer Language, Arithmetic, History, Geography, Manual Work, Practical Knowledge, Drawing, Arts/Dancing/Singing, Physical Education (Ayres, 2003), while now there are Khmer, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical and Health Education and Sport for the primary school (MeOYS, 2004). For Lower Secondary School, there are Khmer, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Foreign Languages, Physical and Health Education and Sport, but for Upper Secondary School, there are Khmer, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Foreign Languages, Physical and Health Education and Sport, Local Life Skill Program (LLSP) and Elective Vocational Education Programs (EVEP) (MeOYS, 2004).
3- Instructional Approaches
Traditionally, teaching style was totally based on word of mouth or rote learning circulating in the Cambodian classroom for many years, (Ayres, 2003). However, nowadays, the teaching methodologies focus on child centered learning and are related to teaching and learning through creative ideas, participation and co-operative learning, research, analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, innovation and encouragement of creative and divergent thinking (MoEYS, 2007). And these methodologies also generate the four compassions: Metha (empathy), Karuna (loving kindness), Muktetha (feeling arising from seeing the reduction in suffering of others), and Obpeka (equanimity), and provide nationwide quality improvement in education (MoEYS, 2007).
4- Challenges in curriculum implementation
There are some problems happening while implementing the new curriculum. Many provinces weakly perform due to lack of facilities/equipment, low inspection capacity, low budget management capacity, late disbursement of PB, frequent migration, poor living standard, teachers not following pedagogy, limited understanding on CFS, and inaccurate population statistics (MoEYS, 2009). Moreover, according to UNESCO (2010), the challenges for the MoEYS and donors to overcome to meet the targets of the ESP/ESSP 2006-2010 are: (a) the effectiveness and quality of education, (b) low access to education, (c) Gender gaps, (d) less support, (e) lack essential skills that the labour market needs, (f) a significant gap between policy formation, implementation and monitoring, (g) a lack of congruence between research and policy-making, (h) irregular practices permeating the education system. Moreover, Education Congress found various problems: a shortage of buildings, teachers, education inspectors, learning and teaching materials for new curriculum; people migration; not proper dissemination on ECE program; not concurrent implementation of Child-Friendly School programs; not following timetables; not comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the internal rules; some communities and local authorities failing to integrate School Development Plan into Commune/Sangkat Investment Plan; low expenditure settlement rate of the budget implementation units at the national and sub-nationals; the guidelines on PB implementation of some national units not issued on time for the sub-national units; and The PB project of some units not prepared in accordance with the action plan (MoEYS, 2011).
Because of the ESP/ESSP of MoEYS and its curriculum development, in these recent years, we have seen an increasing access to education services at all educational institutions and at all school levels. Student registration in primary schools is stable with some increasing in secondary school. In fact, many planned activities under respective sub-programs have begun, but have had limited success due to the problems mentioned above. Therefore, I optimistically hope that the education reform or development will be able to provide the next generation with quality education which can compete both regionally and internationally. Also, MoEYS will soon be able to reach EFA goals, Millennium Development goals and the objectives of the Rectangular Strategy of Royal Government of Cambodia though its increasing confidence and leadership in implementing education reform.