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    Strengthening Student Centered Approaches

    in Science Teaching in Cambodia

    Stefaan Vande WalleScience Program Coordinator, VVOB Cambodia

    stefaan.vvobseal@gmail.com

    Uon VirakScience Program Assistant, VVOB Cambodia

    Veerle CnuddeEducational Advisor, VVOB Cambodia

    Keo MonoScience Program Assistant, VVOB Cambodia

    Abstract: This paper describes the activities and lessons learned of the Science Program of theFlemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) inCambodia. The programs (SEAL) objective is to enhance the science teacher training bystrengthening the capacity of lecturers and by stimulating the use of student centered approaches(SCA). The program focuses on basic education and runs from 2008 until 2013. The paperconsists of 3 parts. First a short overview is given of problems facing the introduction of SCA inCambodia. Secondly, the methodology of the project is discussed and finally, some lessonslearned are presented. During the presentation a lively account of project activities will be given

    and how they affect the adoption of student centered approaches. Updated monitoring andevaluation data will be presented to illustrate results.

    Introduction

    Cambodia is trying to rebuild a system that was almost completely destroyed during the Khmer Rougeperiod. The government estimates that 75 percent of teachers, 96 percent of university students and 67 percent of allprimary and secondary school students were killed when the Khmer Rouge was in power. Infrastructure was alsodestroyed or abandoned. Few books remained and the deterioration of school buildings and equipment waswidespread (Benveniste, Marshall and Araujo, 2008). A high influx of students caused by high birth rates since the1990s and increased enrollment threaten to make teacher shortages even more acute. Besides the issue of thequantity of teachers, the quality of teachers is of concern.

    Barriers to student centered approaches Cambodia

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    A student-centered approach (SCA) is a constructivist learning model that places the student in the centerof the learning process. In student-centered approaches, students are active participants in their learning; they learnat their own pace and use their own strategies; they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated; learning ismore individualized than standardized. Student-centered learning develops learning-how-to-learn skills such asproblem solving, cooperative learning, critical thinking, creativity and reflective thinking. Student-centered learningaccounts for and adapts to different learning styles of students (MoEYS, 2007, National Center for Research on

    Teacher Learning, 1999). Rote learning is still prevalent in Cambodian science classes. In class, teachers read fromthe textbooks and encourage the students to remember what the teacher said. Students are seldom provided with anopportunity to observe phenomena around them and analyze them scientifically.Reasons to stimulate the adoption of SCA are:

    - quality of teaching is important factor to lower student-dropout levels- familiarity with SCA increases teacher work satisfaction- SCA promote understanding of science- SCA generates interest in science, leading to higher numbers of students studying science and engineering.

    Barriers to SCA in science education can be clustered into 4 categories (VVOB, 2009):- Lack of content knowledge and access to information resources- Lack of methodological skills- Curriculum and textbook related issues- Issues regarding incentives and national policy

    The first category relates to the lack of content knowledge and basic understanding of the science

    curriculum by teachers and teacher trainers. Emphasis is put on recalling scientific knowledge and solving simpleproblems within familiar settings. Many teachers have critical problems with reasoning skills, in scientificallyexplaining natural phenomena and in logically drawing rational conclusions (JICA, 2009). This results in lowconfidence and motivation to adopt SCA. Linked to this is the limited access to information resources in English,due to poor foreign language skills and the lack of internet facilities.

    Secondly, teachers and teacher trainers request for methodological support on how to integrate experimentsand research activities in their lessons. Joined to the lack of science laboratories and/or teaching materials, very fewpractical applications of sciences are shown during the lessons. Moreover experiments tend to be used merely toconfirm theories that are in the textbook and not to challenge students and have them develop scientific skills andattitudes (JICA, 2009). Most teachers and teacher trainers are familiar with the term student centered approaches,but associate it mainly with terms as experiment, exercise, group-work and teaching material and less withcritical thinking, exploration and discussion (JICA, 2009).

    Subject specific teaching hours at the Teacher Training College are divided between lessons of

    Strengthening the Background (upper secondary level or higher) and Strengthening the Knowledge at LowerSecondary Level (lower secondary level). These two subjects are conducted in the same semester so that studentsoften have to study the contents in the same domain simultaneously but at different educational levels. Thisfacilitates memorizing knowledge rather than constructing scientific concepts gradually (JICA, 2009). Approval ofteacher training manuals and school textbooks falls under the responsibility of the MoEYS, eliminating competitionand choice for teachers. Practical activities are described in those books but face following problems:

    - materials are not available in local settings- procedures are too complicated- contents are not related to daily life- objectives are unclear- illustrations and figures are unclear or inaccurate- experiments are not presented as part of the scientific method or as opportunities to do science, but act

    merely as confirmation of the theory.

    Issues regarding incentives and national policy relate to factors as admission to the teacher trainingcolleges, teacher pay and complementary activities such as remedial teaching, double shift teaching and multigradeteaching. Interest for admission at teacher training colleges is high, but many young teachers report that the mainreason is the lack of better options (Benveniste, Marshall and Araujo, 2008).

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    Methodology

    In order to stimulate SCA, the SEAL program develops a capacity building program for teacher trainersand teachers from practice schools. Twelve teacher trainers and twelve teachers from practice schools are involvedin regular training sessions (1 day per week/ total 25 weeks). During these training sessions new methodologies areintroduced and tried-out, first with the peer-group and afterwards in real class settings. The training program startedin November 2008 and will continue until June 2011. After this training program, methodologies and activities thatare tried and found successful will be summarized in a teacher training manual (in cooperation with the NationalMinistry of Education, Youth and Sports) and implemented in all teacher training colleges in Cambodia. Teachertrainers and teachers will facilitate and monitor this implementation.

    The methodologies introduced focus on strengthening problem solving skills, reasoning skills andconceptual science teaching. Science teaching is presented as a way to investigate how the world works instead of afixed collection of facts. Teacher trainers and teachers learn to use practical activities to stimulate curiosity in

    students and to introduce an inquiry-based approach to science. Methodologies are localized by teacher trainers,taking into account large class sizes, absence of electricity and study materials and a rigid administrative structure.

    Lessons learned

    Following lessons learned are identified:1. Work with a small group of motivated teacher trainers and teachers

    A small group can be monitored more easily with frequent personal feedback. When this group is convinced andapplies SCA successfully in their lessons, they will more easily convince other teachers and student teachers toapply SCA.

    2.

    Work within existing structures of the curriculum and lesson planWorking within the existing structures of the curriculum and the lesson plan structure eases the implementation ofSCA. It is crucial to convince teachers that SCA are not additional to their teaching but represent a more active wayto teach the topics in the curriculum. Keeping the lesson plan structure to implement SCA decreases the thresholdand helps them to understand the objectives of the technique.

    3. Monitor progress through peer teaching and try-outsTeachers are accustomed to teach for rote learning and a rigid lesson structure. Introducing SCA requires them torethink their lesson structure and their role as a teacher.

    4. Involvement of teachers from the practice schoolsStudents have 6 weeks of practicum per year during which they observe and teach lessons at a practice school underthe supervision of a model teacher. These model teachers should offer a guided practice with attention for SCA forscience teaching to the student teachers. All trainers mention the importance of having good model teachersduring the teaching practice as they play a significant role in the development of the style/skills/methodology of the

    future teachers (VVOB, 2009).5. Focus on the time aspect of SCA

    Teachers have a strong misconception that SCA are time consuming activities, which do not fit in an overloadedcurriculum. A focus on techniques that

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