A day in the life of ... Terry Ward

As Cambodia continues to rebuild its education system following the Khmer Rouge years, this teacher trainer is helping a new generation to get up to speed
7th April 2017, 1:00am
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A day in the life of ... Terry Ward


I get up at 5am, before sunrise, and eat my usual breakfast of coffee and bread.

My walk to work only takes 20 minutes, but you need eyes in the back of your head to cross the busy roads of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

At this time of the morning, people are setting up tuk-tuks (mobile kitchens) from which they will sell food throughout the day. They mostly sell barbecued meat in plastic throw-away containers. When I walk home tonight, the gutters will be littered with them.

I’m at my office by around 6am, which is a good time to work, as it is still cool. The office here is a very different environment to the secondary school classrooms where I have spent most of my working life.

Back in the UK, I worked as a physics teacher in Southsea, before becoming head of teacher training at the University of Portsmouth. Now, at the age of 69, I am retired from UK education, but am currently on my eighth volunteer placement with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), working as an initial teacher training curriculum adviser.

I’m helping to revise the Cambodian curriculum for initial teacher training, developing a BEd in teacher training and helping to upskill current trainers. Those working in initial teacher training here still predominantly rely on chalk and talk, modelling very little else to student teachers.

The Khmer Rouge ‘destroyed education’

The problems stem from the late 1970s when Cambodia’s education system was destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime, which sought to return the country to a classless, agricultural society. Many people perceived as “intellectuals”, including teachers, were murdered in the name of this vision. As a result, the country was left with a considerably smaller pool of teachers.

Cambodia is still in the process of rebuilding its education system. Making sure that new teachers are receiving the best training is an important part of that.

At the office, my colleagues arrive around 7.15am, by which time I‘ve already read my emails and started on my tasks for the day.

I work through lunch and attend some official Ministry meetings in the afternoon. My translator doesn’t need to translate what I say into Khmer as almost everyone at senior level understands English, but they’re not confident enough to speak it. Meetings like this, which involve moving from language to language, can be very long and hard to understand. But I am working with senior officials who can make a big difference to how people are educated here.

I work until 5pm without a break and walk home, dodging the motorcycles that drive along the pavements. I do some food shopping on the way. Bargaining is expected, but I haven’t been fleeced yet.

Currently, 97.5 per cent of teachers here don’t meet the government’s standards, but more children are now in school receiving some level of education. From a starting point of no education at all in 1979, Cambodia has made enormous strides.


Terry Ward is an ITT curriculum adviser with Voluntary Service Overseas

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