Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Education Challenges

One of the advantages of having a teacher that is 25 years old who is studying in university is the opportunity to learn first hand about the educational challenges in his generation. Chheut my loak crew (male teacher) recently started studying English literature at university----why anyone would want to study English literature is beyond me (that's because I'm a numbers person) but according to my loak crew, he chose that course of study so that he can improve his English. He is a brave man as I think if it were me, there would be far many other courses I would choose. The other day he was showing me his curriculum and it was interesting to learn that they have to read King Lear among other Shakespearean books. I remember my days in high school studying Shakespeare and it was a nightmare trying to figure out that ''old Enlgish", so its hard for me to imagine a non-native English speaker learning this. But bless his heart for taking this on. It just goes to show how much the young Khmer are hungering to study, learn and speak English. At the rate he is going, he'll probably speak it better than me! :-)

Chheut seems to have a lot of influence in his English course as the other students are always asking him for help. I asked him why that was and he mentioned that many of the Khmer students who are taking this course hardly can speak English but they want to learn the language. So they sit in class, nod their heads when the teacher is talking about the lesson and when he is finished, they quietly go to Chheut to ask him to translate. One of the challenges in the education system that I have heard about and seems to be a recurring theme as I talk to Chheut is that the students in the past would bribe their teachers to pass the tests or they will copy homework from another student and claim it as their own. One dimension of this is exactly what is happening in Chheut's class. Because he has a good command of the English language---amazing considering he has only been studying English for 3 years-----Chheut's peers have asked him if they could copy his homework.

In this context, what does one do with such a request? I asked Chheut how he has responded and he acknowledged that it is very difficult because he wants to help his fellow peers and yet feels guilty for letting them copy his homework. As a Christian, he wants to encourage them in their studies but knows that this is not the right way to do it. So we ended up talking about what Christ would have him do? It was encouraging to hear that he offered to tutor his fellow peers in English for free so that they could have a better understanding of English. He set aside a time during the day for them to meet but sadly, none of them  showed up even though they are not working like him.

We talked about how we could walk blameless and with integrity in the midst of an environment in which cheating on exams, tests and assignments is all too common a phenomenon. Chheut is learning that to follow Christ means saying 'no' to the ways of the world, to endure ridicule and insults. He is learning to pray and ask Jesus to help him before he goes to class so that he can stand firm and politely speak truth to his fellow students, challenging them to develop new study habits instead of the acceptable 'norms and practices.' For a culture that is so community oriented, this is a challenge and yet it is encouraging to see young Khmer Christians like Chheut desiring to walk with integrity and not seeking to please man but to please God!

This past Monday, he wrote his first English test and before he went, I spent some time praying with him that God would give him clarity and understanding as he answered the questions and that he would do well.  On the day of the test, he shared how all this fellow students had finished the exam so quickly and he only was able to answer about 90% of the questions but he felt he had passed. Of course we were both baffled at how they could finish so quickly given their limited understanding of English. I couldn't help but wonder if they had been able to get hold of the exam prior to writing it. After all, that is quite a possibility. So today, Chheut got the results and was quite excited to share the news that he had passed. He did extremely well and as for his fellow students. Many of them failed. It seemed that his teacher had been very strict with the class. No one was allowed to talk to each other during the test----you would think this is a standard practice here, but as I'm learning, don't ever assume that what happens in North America happens here ---it just is not so!

As I think of many young Khmer Christians who work during the day and study at night, they too will face similar challenges like Chheut. Pray for them as they are growing up in a very competitive environment where jobs are limited. Pray that God would bless them with wisdom and discernment to navigate the cultural minefields and that they will have a willingness to stand for truth. Pray that it would be their desire to honor God and not to cave into peer pressure. Psalm 84:11-12 says:  For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. May they indeed learn to trust the Lord in the midst of these challenges.

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