Research Project

What Makes a Good Teacher?

What Makes a Good Teacher?
The challenge of enhancing teacher professional identity and capability

 in Cambodian schools

Professional Identity for Khmer Teachers


      1.     Background

This research addresses the question of teacher effectiveness in the context of early grade school education in Cambodia. In all education settings the challenge of enhancing teaching capability to achieve better learning outcomes is complex and multifaceted. In the context of early grade education in Cambodian schools, this is especially the case. Cambodian education is like the ‘perfect storm’ of challenges. In addition to the under-developed, largely agrarian economy we have the unique and terrible recent history of oppression that specifically targeted educators. With 75% of teachers and 96% of university graduates killed, the trauma resonates to this day and nowhere more so than in the thousands of schools and in the minds of the teachers and communities on whom they depend.

Overall, learning outcomes in Cambodia are poor in comparison with other countries and this is especially true for girls from hard-to-reach communities. Data from national assessments for Grades 3, 6 and 8 over the period from 2015-2017 in the core subjects of Khmer and Mathematics show that achievement levels were at or below 50% and that there were no signs of an improving trend. Consequently, lower secondary students may leave school early, especially in Grade 9, when they find learning too difficult. The same can be said for the transition from lower to upper secondary schools, where weak foundational standards in basic education prevent students succeeding at higher grade levels. 

This study will investigate how teachers in Cambodia and specifically the Battambang Province, can be enabled to improve their teaching practice and engage in a path of professional development. It will focus on the tasks and challenges of building teacher professional identity; how teachers see themselves and how this may change over time. Teacher professional identity is a core enabler for a wider framework of teaching capability and competence. Effective teaching requires a disposition for practice in a continuous cycle of professional improvement.

This study combines field work with design-based research to provide a learning path for enhanced teaching capability. A sample of 25 early grade teachers will be recruited as volunteer research participants. Two rounds of data collection, comprising in class observation, teacher interviews and ‘school and community’ profiles, will take place one year apart. Workshops on teacher professional identity will be delivered to the participants, one following the first and one following the second data collection round. At each stage analysis of data will inform the learning design for the workshops. The data and the workshops will also inform the development of a Framework for Teacher Professional Identity in Cambodia and materials for an associated structured professional learning module. The research will also provide new insights on what’s happening in Cambodian schools and foster further research collaboration between Irish and Cambodian investigators.

      2.     Research Goal

1)   To establish a framework for Teacher Professional Identity in Cambodia incorporating a capability Framework that informs individual professional learning plans.

2)   Design an evidence-based Teacher Professional Identity Module that is suitable for deployment in the context of teacher professional development policies in Cambodia.

3)   Develop a context appropriate methodology for investigating teaching practices in Cambodian schools.

4)   Enhance the research and collaboration capacity of DoPo, Phnom Penh Teacher Education College, SeeBeyondBorders, and NCI’s Centre for Education and Lifelong Learning so that further, much needed research projects may be undertaken to tackle the extensive challenges of education in Cambodia. 

      3.     Outputs and Impact

In addition to goals 3 and 4 as discussed above, the outputs and impacts of this study will have reach. In its Research Strategy 2015-2019 Irish Aid commits to working “with our research partners to ensure that research findings are presented credibly and in ways that policy makers and practitioners can easily understand and use.” All stakeholders involved in this research share this commitment and will work towards effectively disseminating results and findings to influence policy and practice in Cambodia and among development partners in Cambodia and Ireland. 

The Department of Policy will:

·       Present findings to MoEYS leaders/Minister and technical departments in the form of a bespoke forum and/or meeting.

·       Write a research finding brief to instruct and inform future policy and the implementation of Continuous Professional Development Framework and Teacher Career Pathway Framework.

·       Write and publish a journal article in the Cambodian Educational Review (CER) and an international journal. This journal is a bilingual MoEYS publication.

·       Present key findings to the Joint Technical working group which comprised Ministry Officials and the Educational Support Working group.

·       Present key findings in Annual Education Congress.


SeeBeyondBorders will:

·      Use the research findings to inform its future programming

·     Create collateral associated with effective promotion on internal channels including its website social media channels and email mailing lists. 

·     Utilize its media and journalistic contacts to garner effective publicity for the research on major external Cambodia and Irish platforms.

·     Liaise with partners in the Irish National Teachers’ Organization to assess the feasibility of presenting the research at the INTO Educational Conference in 2024. The INTO is a longstanding supporter of SeeBeyondBorders.

·     Liaise with contacts in the Cambodia Ireland Changemaker Network to create a series of webinars on the research.

·     Approach partners in the Development Studies Association of Ireland (DSAI) to assess feasibility of a presentation at a DSAI Conference.


Phnom Penh Teacher Education College 

The participation of PTEC into the research will bring about the change of its teacher education curriculum and the research capacity building for PTEC. 

The teacher professional identity framework will inform teacher education curriculum at TEC so that it is suitable, important, and related to daily work and life of the teacher students. Underpinned by the teacher professional identity framework, the teacher education curriculum at Phnom Penh TEC will be fit and relevant with the level, lives and future of teacher students which will lead to the quality of teaching in the future classroom. 

The research insights will benefit PTEC in its teacher education programs, teacher educators and teacher students as follows:

The research findings will inform the teacher education curricula (primary and lower secondary teacher education program) at PTEC.

The research insights will inform PTEC management teams and teacher educators to make evidence-based decisions on how to implement the curricula and support student teachers more effectively.

Student teachers will be more aware of their professional identity to become effective teachers before they are assigned to work as school teachers at designated primary or lower secondary schools. 


Centre for Education and Lifelong Learning, NCI will:

·     Host an interim and final seminar on The Challenges of Education in Cambodia and invite a wide selection of the Irish education community to be more aware of the challenges of education in Cambodia.

·     Write papers for journals such as the International Journal of Educational Development and Irish Educational Studies, Schools Studies in Education etc.

·     Continue in collaboration between DoPo and SeeBeyondBordes and PTEC to encourage other colleagues and students to become more involved in addressing the education challenges in Cambodia

·     Participate at conferences and events to highlight the results from this research


·     Develop further proposals to fund future research in this space.

      4.  Timeline






Q3 2022

Preparation and ramp up
Research Advisory Board Meeting 

Theoretical framework &
literature review
Recruitment of research team
Instrument design: Observation Component Checklist, Structured Interview
Questions, Profile templates
Training of research assistants for data collection
Recruitment of teacher-participants

Q1 2023

Field Data Round 1

In-class observations in the field
Teacher participant Interviews
School and Community Profiles gathered

Q2 2023

Initial analysis 
Research Advisory Board Meeting
Visit by PI 
Delivery of Teacher Professional Identity Workshop 1 and associated resources

Initial analysis of field data to
inform workshop design including ‘typical teacher profiles’

Development of first design iteration of teacher professional development
workshop and resources

Delivery of Professional Identity Workshop 1 for participant
Working with typical teacher profiles 
Introduction of draft Capability Framework

Discussion of identified practice improvements

Guidelines and template for follow-up reflection report


Research Methods Seminars

Research Methods Seminar in
Cambodia (at DoPo)

Q3 2023

Research Advisory Board

Interim Report

Interim Report including further
analysis of field data and workshop data to provide a “What’s Happening in
Schools” summary.
Feedback from policy (MoEYS) and partners

Q4 2023

Q1 2024

Data Round 2 

Analysis incorporating insights from Data Round 2

In-class observations (round 2)
Semi-structured interviews with teacher participants (round 2)
incorporating follow-up reflection reports

Development of second design iteration for Teacher Professional Identity

Final versions of the: Teacher Capability Framework with individual

Learning Plans and resources to support a teacher community of practice 

Q2 2024

Visit by PI

Research Advisory Board Meeting

TPI Workshop 2

and extending delivery
Research Seminar on Early Findings 

Delivery of second design
iteration for Teacher Professional Identity Workshop to the
teacher participant group 
Delivery of the Teacher Professional Identity Workshops in PTEC to
pre-service and in-service teacher groups

This seminar will take place in PTEC and will discuss indicative findings
with a range of stakeholders from Cambodian teacher education 




Final analysis and write up
Final Report and

Research Advisory Board Meeting 

Published in English and Khmer

Q1 2025

Irish Seminar

Seminar on Challenges of Education in Cambodia at NCI including simultaneous
launch of report in Ireland and Cambodia