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On a recent visit to Cambodia, I was able to witness how CamTESOL was able to manage and organise a conference with minimal resources and finance.



The differences between Cambodia and Thailand’s infrastructures are vast. A recent conference for English language teaching professionals demonstrated what can be done with sound administrative practices and small resources.


More than 1,200 participants gathered in Phnom Penh for the 5th annual CamTESOL conference at the National Institute of Education. Approximately 300 teachers and administrators from about 27 countries provided an opportunity for local educators to exchange ideas and listen to presentations.


What I found interesting was that we could learn a lot in Thailand as to how to run conferences such as this, due to the fact that it was held in the National Institute of Education and not in a top class hotel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not adverse to a bit of luxury; however, the conference was just as effective and so was the administration beforehand.


I was kept up to date regularly by people on the organising committee and was informed of all the get togethers and management decisions, so everything would run smoothly.


Of course, not everything went according to plan, which is hardly surprising as the electricity would come and go at irregular intervals reducing some presentations to tatters. One presenter who revelled in this situation was Professor Jayakaran Mukundan from Malaysia who had me crying with laughter as he demonstrated how not to get technology to work for teachers. It made me wish I had someone like that teaching me when I was at university.


The Cambodians I spoke to were very excited by the whole event. Having suffered great political and educational upheaval in the past, they were very conscious of the need for improvement in the quality of education in their country and the majority of presentations reflected this.


Presentations took place in small classrooms where everyone sat on small wooden benches. These classrooms did not have air conditioners which certainly makes a change from freezing in a large auditorium like we are used to in Thailand. There were plenty of water breaks and enough volunteers in coloured shirts to help those participants who were in need.    


My overall impression was that CamTESOL will not stay like this. Over the years it is bound to evolve into something like ThaiTESOL. In my opinion, the problem with this is that it gets too big and is only relevant for the major players. Teachers from small rural schools tend not to go as they feel that it is not for them.


The Cambodians were very conscious about this and there had been great effort to sponsor teachers from rural areas to attend. The subjects that were being presented were pitched at the right level because the management had asked the presenters to do this, so the teachers from outside the big cities would appreciate what was going on.


The emphasis seemed to me to be completely different from what I am used to in Thailand and I felt that this conference was more “back to basics” and for everyone rather than just the professors from our top universities. Maybe there are a few lessons that can be learned from this.

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Some presentations were well attended with participants having to stand and look through the windows.

(Unedited article published in the Bangkok Post 26th May 2009)

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