The New Generation Schools reform’s theory of change for teachers is: If the reform (1) creates a system and culture of high teacher professionalism and (2) provides high-quality professional development to teachers, then teachers will utilize innovative teaching and learning practices and develop students’ twenty-first century skills.
6.5.1 System and Culture of Teacher Professionalism
New Generation Schools create a system and culture of teacher professionalism through the governance framework. There are four core principles of the NGS governance framework: operational autonomy, high professional standards for principals and teachers, a rationalized resource allocation framework and strict accountability requirements with a required annual accreditation process (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b).
High Professional Standards: First, NGS establish high professional standards for principals and teachers. The NGS reform is based on the notion that one of the core barriers to improving learning outcomes is rampant corruption at the school level. The reform targets this corruption by establishing an expectation of teacher professionalism, where school accreditation is based on adherence to the following criteria: “(1) private tutoring abolished and (2) practice of mandatory student purchases of teacher goods (e.g., study papers, cake, etc.) abolished.” An even higher expectation has been applied to principals, as “the role of the principal as a school leader is to set an example of high professionalism for teachers” (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b).
Both teachers and principals are compensated for adherence to high professional standards. There are two types of pay incentives. The first are fixed payments linked to the agreement among NGS teachers to abolish private tutoring, which are set at a minimum of $100/month for teachers and $250/month for principals (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Teachers can also receive task-based payments for responsibilities such as leading clubs or organizing field trips, which vary depending on school needs and availability of resources (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). The Ministry posits rewarding teachers and principals for maintaining a high standard of professionalism will reduce corruption (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b).
NGS teachers are selected primarily based on their alignment to the NGS vision and expectation of high professional standards. As Bredenberg (2018) noted, given the high accountability standards which differ starkly from the traditional Cambodian education system, NGS staff must be intrinsically motivated and dedicated to serving students well. They also should be willing to innovate and continually improve their instructional practices. For example, NGS teachers should be willing to incorporate ICT and constructivist pedagogy into their classroom.
Operational Autonomy: Next, NGS school-based staff, including principals and teachers, have nearly complete autonomy over their schools, provided they can justify how they will “promote innovation and increase educational quality” (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). This includes autonomy over teacher recruitment, curriculum modifications, student–teacher ratios and use of education technology. NGS principals have a special allocation budget to fund innovative practices in teaching and learning, which specifically target STEM, ICT and critical thinking skills (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b).
Rationalized Resource Allocation: Third, NGS must demonstrate a rationalized resource allocation framework. NGS receive additional discretionary funding to achieve their learning goals. However, the rationalized resource allocation framework requires schools abolish all informal fees and demonstrate funds are being used effectively in support of the NGS goals, such as for “the delivery of high quality student services, teacher incentives that are linked to performance, and investment in school facilities”(Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Overall, the governance framework is designed to provide autonomy to highly efficient and effective principals and teachers to innovate at the school level to improve the quality of instruction and student outcomes.
Accountability and Accreditation: Finally, the school-level autonomy and high professional standards are accompanied by strict accountability requirements for NGS accreditation. The NGS Policy Guidelines include 24 criteria that NGS must meet to maintain status and funding. To monitor NGS compliance with the accreditation criteria, the Ministry has created a national NGS Oversight Board. The Board is comprised of both representatives from the Ministry and non-state actors from the private sector. The Board is responsible for approving and monitoring the use of funds to ensure the additional investment in NGS is producing higher quality learning. The Board also oversees NGS accreditation visits and based on these evaluations makes recommendations for whether or not a NGS should maintain accreditation. If a NGS school loses its funding, it will no longer have access to Ministry resources and funds (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). The strict accountability requirements and robust annual accreditation process are designed to ensure NGS use their operational autonomy and additional resources to improve the quality of education in their schools.
6.5.2 High-Quality Professional Development
The NGS reform utilizes several modalities to provide comprehensive support and training to teachers to encourage innovations for twenty-first century teaching and learning.
Initial Training: The Ministry and KAPE are developing a specialized training institution for NGS teachers: the New Generation School Training Center (NGSTC). The institute will be affiliated with the national recruiting system and will directly recruit and train teachers for the NGS program. The NGSTC will provide an 8-month, 34-credit master’s degree for young teachers. The curriculum at NGSTC will focus on academic leadership, professional ethics, mentoring and twenty-first century professional skills (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). The program will use innovative advertising to recruit teachers and employ a selection process, which includes not only written examinations but also multiple rounds of interviews and evidence of community service (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). This holistic application process will allow NGSTC to select candidates not only on their content and pedagogical expertise but also their intra- and interpersonal skills. Moreover, to ensure teachers have continued support when they leave the institute and enter the classroom, NGSTC is developing a software platform to enable virtual mentoring and provide access to success story podcasts. It will also use interactive voice response to track students’ progress via real-time data (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). Overall, the proposed teacher recruitment and training process at NGSTC is well structured to prepare teachers to work in New Generation Schools.
Career Planning: Once teachers are in their schools, all New Generation Schools provide ongoing instructional support to teachers via the Formative Teacher Support System. The system is centered on the practice of reflective teaching, which asks teachers to continually reflect both individually and in collaboration with colleagues and mentors on their practice (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). There are seven key elements of the Formative Teacher Support System in a New Generation School: teacher profiles, study trips to other schools, professional learning communities, career path planning, individual conferencing, classroom observations and on-going in-service training opportunities. Teachers track their own professional growth and development by maintaining a professional profile, which includes documentation of their professional goals and accomplishments, including a CV, career path plan, special certificates or awards, and observation and evaluation forms.
Mentoring: All NGS schools have designated teacher mentors, who may be a vice-principal or KAPE staff member, to provide instructional support and feedback to teachers (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Mentors partner with teachers to develop, progress and monitor their career path plan, conduct individual conferences at least twice annually to provide feedback on classroom observations or a team-taught lesson, and arrange study trips to other innovative schools so teachers can observe different pedagogy and practices (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Mentors partner with teachers to develop a career path plan, with specific and measurable professional goals for the next 5 years. Teachers keep a weekly logbook of successes and challenges in progressing toward their goals.
In-service Training: All NGS teachers participate in-service training to learn about effective methodologies for developing critical and creative thinking skills. Some topics of NGS in-service teacher training include constructivist learning, problem-based learning, cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, teaching to promote critical thinking and using ICT in education (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b).
Professional Learning Communities: All NGS teachers participate in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), where they not only collaborate and reflect on instructional practices but also reinforce the positive behavioral norms of teacher professionalism which are central to the NGS model. It is suggested that PLCs meet at least 2–3 times per month based on subject area or grade level to “share information, plan lessons and examinations together, and provide assistance to one another for special projects that are common to all teachers such as using educational software” (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b).
International Study Trips: New Generation School teachers also have the opportunity to visit and learn about other twenty-first century schools. For example, the Ministry organized a trip to Thailand in June 2018 for a group of NGS teachers, principals and board members to visit three innovative schools. The experience of international comparative education allows teachers to identify ways they can enhance their own school to better achieve their goals for developing students’ twenty-first century competencies.
Principal Support: NGS principals are ultimately accountable for ensuring high-quality instruction, although they typically do not support teachers directly in an instructional capacity. NGS principals are aware of their role in monitoring the quality of instruction in their schools, as one NGS principal stated, “I have to make sure teachers [are] ready to transform all young learners with the knowledge and skills needed to function in a rapidly changing world by integrat[ing] modern and interactive methods into their teaching” (Vicheaka, 2016). Principals may collaborate with teachers to define professional development goals, such as the use of ICT or constructivist pedagogy in their classrooms (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Some principals also conduct classroom observations, provide written and oral feedback, monitor teacher reflection journals and support professional learning communities (PLCs) (Vicheaka, 2016, Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). However, given their other management responsibilities, principals do not have time to build the instructional capacity of all teachers in their schools (Bredenberg, 2018).
Given the inputs above, NGS teachers are expected to achieve the following outcomes: (1) innovative teaching and learning practices and (2) support their students in developing twenty-first century skills.
Innovative Teaching and Learning Practices
The high level of operational autonomy and support provided to NGS is one of the key factors which distinguishes them from traditional Cambodian public schools. NGS are expected to use this autonomy and support to innovate to best serve the needs and interests of students and the community. For example, NGS can adopt new curricula, increase hours of instruction in a particular subject, extend teaching hours and reduce class sizes. They also receive additional resources which can be used to purchase new technology or curriculum. Overall, this approach is aligned with the theory of school-based management that those closest to students know best how to allocate resources to meet their needs. The two focus areas for innovation at NGS are curriculum and instruction and technology and facilities.
Curriculum and Instruction: The NGS reform anticipates principals and teachers will use the autonomy and support they receive to deliver high-quality, innovative twenty-first century curriculum and instruction. First, NGS teachers are able to adopt new curricula outside the national framework which is aligned to twenty-first century learning standards. Some of the possible instructional innovations articulated in the NGS Policy Guidelines include “enhanced curricula (e.g., intensive learning in the STEM subjects) … and (iv) differentiated learning channels to accommodate students’ strengths and interests” (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). One example of an instructional innovation took place in 2018, when several NGS senior English teachers began implementing the Extensive Reading Program, which is designed to supplement classroom English instruction, improve English fluency, and prepare students for standardized English tests. The NGS secondary schools are the first in Cambodia to adopt this innovative instructional technique (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). NGS also have the option to reduce class sizes to increase individualized learning. The increased student instructional hours (36 hours for primary, 40 hours for secondary) can be used for special subject themes such as STEM or foreign language (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). This autonomy to innovate with curriculum and instruction is designed to develop students’ twenty-first century skills.
Technology and Facilities: NGS schools are also encouraged to innovate with technology and facilities to develop a modern, efficient learning environment. This means ensuring access to a twenty-first century library, science and ICT labs, and sports and playground facilities. As the Ministry expressed: “the use of technology will be a key element in New Generation Schools that includes not only access to hardware but also the introduction of new educational software that will enhance teaching, learning, and assessment (e.g., Literatu, 3D Classroom, etc.)” (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b).
Twenty-First Century Skills
The New Generation Schools reform aims to support students in developing twenty-first century competencies, in order to prepare them to contribute productively to the workforce. NGS’s specific emphasis on STEM and ICT skills is a response to these growing industries in Cambodia and across South-East Asia. As Minister of Education Dr. Hang Chuon Naron explained, “Because we are in the 21st century, technology develops very fast. I think, to make Cambodia advance to the status of a developed country with an increased income, we need to create new industry, we must focus our students’ training in STEM” (Sacker, 2017). The Ministry also emphasizes the importance of critical thinking in preparing students for future employment, as a recent survey in Cambodia identified analytical thinking and decision-making as the skills most desired by employers for skilled and semi-skilled work (Bredenberg, 2018). It is this combination of cognitive processes and explicit content knowledge in STEM and ICT that the Ministry believes will prepare students for future success in the workforce.
The NGS place a strong emphasis on cognitive competencies, with a particular focus on content knowledge of STEM and ICT and critical thinking skills. While the NGS reform aims to improve the overall quality of education, the Ministry has expressed an explicit goal for NGS is to improve STEM instruction, given historically more than half of students have not passed the national 12th grade Bac II examination in Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology (Bredenberg, 2018). This priority is also reflected in the NGS Operating Guidelines for accreditation, which require all schools to have a twenty-first century library, ICT lab services and science lab services (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). The importance of having a “modern and efficient learning environment” to facilitate the development of STEM and ICT cognitive competencies is an important aspect of the NGS model, with special funding allocated for upgrades of libraries, computer labs and other common spaces in NGS (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b).
The goals for NGSs also emphasize ICT literacy for both students and teachers. Teachers are expected to have a high degree of ICT literacy and are evaluated based on their ability to integrate ICT into their classrooms. Students are expected to utilize their school’s abundant ICT resources, both as a means to learn and also to develop technical ICT skills useful for future employment (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). For example, in the upcoming school year, NGS will partner with Code.org to offer two hours per week of coding instructions to students (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b).
Besides the emphasis on STEM and ICT, the Ministry also requires students to develop other cognitive competencies such as critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. One of the key target outcome indicators defined by the Ministry for NGS is “critical thinking scores among students show a statistically significant improvement from baseline scores by the end of year 3” (Ministry of Education, 2018a, b). In order to achieve this goal, NGS utilizes problem-based learning and constructivist teaching methods. Problem-based learning is an inquiry-based, student-driven approach where students learn through discussion of open-ended, real-world problems. Similarly, constructive learning is as an active process of contextualizing information and constructing meaning based on one’s own life experiences (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). Both approaches require students to utilize critical thinking skills to analyze relevant real-world problems. The Ministry emphasizes the importance of critical thinking in preparing students for future employment, as a recent survey in Cambodia identified analytical thinking and decision-making as the skills most desired by employers for skilled and semi-skilled work (Bredenberg, 2018).
While goals for inter- and intrapersonal competencies are not explicit in the program design, the NGS reform provides opportunities for students to develop these twenty-first century competencies. For example, the use of problem-based pedagogy allows students to develop collaboration and leadership skills. Students also have additional opportunities for interpersonal development outside the classroom through participation in sports and student organizations. Education Minister Dr. Naron also includes global citizenship as one of the goals of the reform in stating, “They [students] should also have a good attitude…to help them become good national citizens, but also good global citizens. [Students need] to know about global warming and terrorism, and how to address these issues” (Sacker, 2017). NGS also utilizes inquiry-based pedagogy to foster intellectual curiosity and self-directed learning. Ariel Rozenblum, ICT in Education Advisor at KAPE, described the power of this self-directed learning, “We realize that we only need to open doors, we don’t have to do more than that. Once we open the doors, the students have a lot of ideas, a lot of drive by themselves” (Cheyenne, 2017). Thus, the development of students’ inter- and intrapersonal competencies is embedded in NGS pedagogy; however, these competencies are not explicitly defined, monitored and assessed in the NGS accreditation criteria.
6.5.3 Risks and Assumptions
There are a few major risks and assumptions with the NGS reform theory of change. The first assumption is principals and teachers have the expertise required to make decisions with resources which will positively impact teaching and learning. This assumption is a current risk because, while there is a robust system for teacher professional development, there is no standardized process for principal selection and training. This has not yet been a significant challenge, given the small scale of the reform and close involvement of KAPE staff, but it will become a critical risk as the program expands.
Beyond having the knowledge and skill, school-based staff must also be highly motivated to maintain support for the NGS vision and adhere to the accountability framework in the context of a larger system that is highly corrupt. As KAPE describes, “A key assumption…is that teachers are truly dedicated to being a good teacher and are not distracted by unprofessional activities that seek to exploit students. If this assumption does not hold at a New Generation School, it is likely that the present system will not function effectively” (Ministry of Education, 2016a, b). For example, teachers must be willing to take risks with their instruction and deliver lessons that are engaging, relevant and personalized to the needs of all learners. Similarly, principals must effectively manage resources in their schools to ensure the environment is conducive to twenty-first century learning.
Finally, there are two critical assumptions about the link between twenty-first century skill development and workforce readiness. First, graduates of NGS must have employment options that match the twenty-first century skill set acquired in NGS. The STEM-focused curriculum assumes there are more jobs available in the STEM field. Second, there is an assumption that NGS graduates will utilize the skills they learn in NGS to contribute to the Cambodian workforce and economic growth.