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FEATURE STORY October 18, 2021

How Moving to Student-Centered Teaching and the “Spill-Over Effect” Improved Learning


Photo courtesy of Yim Sony


  • The World Bank supports the Secondary Education Improvement Project, which seeks to improve secondary education by strengthening school-based management and upgrading the skills of lower secondary teachers.
  • So far, nearly 2,200 teachers and more than 500 school heads and educational staff have enrolled. Over 1,000 of these have already completed training.
  • Another World Bank-supported project, Higher Education Improvement, is helping nearly 3 million students learn from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since face-to-face teaching was suspended due to COVID-19, Yim Sony, a biology teacher in Kandal province, has taught her students virtually. Sony monitors her students’ assignments, submitted through an online platform. Although she previously had no computer or online skills, the pandemic has forced her to find ways to teach. Learning by doing, and applying new knowledge gained from weekends spent on the national Teacher Upgrading Program (TUP), under the World Bank-supported Secondary Education Improvement Project, she can successfully perform her job.

Sony teaches biology to grades 9 and 12. The TUP has connected her with many teachers, school leaders and experts, who help her develop professionally, particularly in virtual teaching and in her move from teacher-centered to student-centered education.

“The training has been a big change for me,” she said, smiling. “It opened my heart, and I’m very proud of having done it. I have built closer relationships and can now transfer more knowledge to my students even through remote classes, which I had never done before.”

Sony has taught for more than 30 years, but the program equipped her with new skills such as developing short, medium and long-term teaching plans to improve the quality of student learning outcomes. The new approach requires students to take an entry test that measures their learning capacity and groups them based on level of knowledge. For those with slower learning rates, an extra curriculum has been developed and extra teaching hours are allocated.

To build closer relationships with students, teachers are required to write case studies about students who show difficulties learning, seem stressed, or are unable to concentrate on their studies. Teachers will visit students’ houses and meet with their parents, and then present their case study to groups of teachers and school management networks.

“Before, I just came to school and taught,” Sony said. “I didn’t prepare courses or analyze pupils, and I complained if they didn’t learn. Now I see the importance of understanding student behavior and their family situations — particularly during the pandemic.”

For virtual teaching, Sony groups students who have smartphones and creates online classes. Those without a smartphone or computer can come to school twice a week to collect learning materials and submit assignments. When teaching, she gives the students research topics in advance and points them to teaching videos produced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

These videos were developed under the Higher Education Improvement Project, which has invested $5 million in e-learning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing nearly 3 million pre-school, primary and secondary pupils to learn from home. The support has also helped the ministry produce student worksheets and provided grants to all primary and secondary schools to print and copy worksheets for poor students.

Of these, over a thousand educational professionals have graduated from the program.

Mok Bora, a high school principal in Kampong Cham province, was one of the first to complete the training and speaks highly of the program and the changes he sees at his school. Bora was appointed school principal in 2009 and had wanted to improve learning outcomes and school management and encourage support from the local community but was unsure how. Since completing the training, he has been able to exchange ideas and gather experience from school principals nationwide and has been able to realize his plans.  

“I questioned why after spending more than 30 years teaching, student learning outcomes still didn’t improve much,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now I have found ways to make improvements. Schools, communities, and local authorities can sit down together and arrive at our own decisions. This generates great results.”

Bora said that dropout rates at his school have declined since implementing the new learning plan, while the ratio of examination passes has greatly improved. Thanks to these results, the school is getting more support from the community and local authorities.

Spillover effect

The Secondary Education Improvement Project targeted 100 secondary schools nationwide but by early 2021, spill-over effects of School-Based Management had been recorded in 102 non-targeted secondary schools and 166 primary schools. These non-targeted schools are starting to follow the SBM model following encouragement from district and provincial Offices of Education.

Authorities have agreed to support non-targeted schools after witnessing a continued increase in student enrollment in the targeted schools. The improved learning outcomes and school management have prompted parents to try to move their children to targeted schools.

Prak Vuthy, Principal at Prek Taten High School, noticed these changes.

“The fact that pupils want to come to our school, and their parents want to send them here shows that the new methods are working,” he added. “We have eager students, happy teachers and a more satisfied community. This is real progress.”