The Importance of Understanding Culture When Improving Education: Learning from Cambodia

  •  Jan Berkvens    


Following Education for All, initiatives like child-friendly schools initiative is rolled out in many countries, including Cambodia. The child-friendly schools initiative is addressing general and local needs of children in schools, like a safe environment, well-trained teachers and the provision of teaching and materials. But there is also a component that is more cultural in nature and might not resonate well with the country’s culture. As Hofstede’s (1980, 1986) research concerning cultural differences indicated, a country’s culture can be described following five dimensions (individualism/collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity, and long-term/short-term orientation). Not taking a country’s culture into account while intervening with important services like education, might lead to low intervention outcomes, teachers who feel uncomfortable with the proposed contents and ways of teaching, and students who are not prepared well towards the society they live in. A cultural profile of Cambodia was missing when the ministry of education started to roll out the Education for All and Child Friendly School approaches in 2006/2007 (Schaeffer & Heng, 2016). The original research has since been enriched with additional data sets. The data sets are by no means large enough to be representative, but through triangulation a careful attempt is made to at least inform educationalists of the importance of taking culture into account when designing and implementing educational interventions to improve learning in Cambodia, and likely elsewhere. With the onset of the Sustainable Development Goals (UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, 2015), such cultural understanding is a necessity in order to achieve cultural appropriate project outcomes.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.