Introduction: The need to promote a strong research and publication culture in Cambodia

Kimkong Heng
The University of Queensland

Koemhong Sol
International Christian University

Sopheap Kaing
University of Fribourg 

Vutha Ros
The University of Hong Kong


Cambodia has made considerable economic growth over the last few decades, enabling it to become a lower-middle income country in 2015 when its GNI (Gross National Income) per capita for 2015 reached $1,070 (Ly, 2016; World Bank, 2018). In 2017, Cambodia’s GNI per capita was $1,230, and in 2019, it increased to $1480 (Macro Trends, n.d.). As Cambodia aspires to become an upper-middle income country by 2030 and a high-income economy by 2050, it needs to maintain its sustained economic growth and increase its GNI per capita to at least $3,896 to attain an upper-middle income status and at least $12,056 for a high-income country status (see World Bank, 2018).

Considering its sustained economic growth, Cambodia may be able to attain this long-term vision; however, the prospects for reaching these income thresholds are constrained by numerous barriers, including a limited supply of highly skilled workforce and limited research and innovation capacity. This is not to mention the profound effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has on the country’s economy, forcing it to experience the slowest growth rate since 1994 (World Bank, 2020).

No doubt, there are many things Cambodia needs to do to bounce back better in the post-pandemic world. Nevertheless, to increase its competitiveness and enhance its relevance in a knowledge-based economy, both in the region and beyond, Cambodia has to reimagine its development vision, seek innovative ways to upgrade the quality of its education system, accelerate instructional and curriculum reforms, and foster the development of a vibrant research and publication culture.

Cambodia’s research performance in the regional context

Cambodia has experienced a terrible recent past. It was engulfed in prolonged civil wars and went through one of the most tragic periods in its modern history. The country was under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (1957-1979), resulting in the death of up to two million people, or almost a quarter of its population at that time (see Tyner, 2017; Zimmer et al., 2006). The regime, moreover, oversaw the destruction of almost all aspects of Cambodian society in an attempt to transform the country into a pure agrarian society (see Ly, 2019). After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has started from scratch; thus, the development of everything, including its education system, is relatively recent (see Ayres, 2000; Duggan, 1997; Un et al., 2017).

At present, there are 125 higher education institutions (HEIs) in Cambodia, 77 (about 61%) of which are privately owned (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport [MoEYS], 2019). None of these HEIs are listed in Times Higher Education’s 2020 World University Rankings, while Cambodia’s neighbors have between three (Vietnam) and 16 (Thailand) universities listed in the Rankings (see Heng, 2020a). Although research activities are taking place in some major universities, such as the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the overall national and institutional research culture is underdeveloped (see Oleksiyenko & Ros, 2019).

Many factors are contributing to the underdevelopment of research in Cambodia. Some of the barriers include low academic salaries, limited research incentives, inadequate research infrastructure, heavy teaching loads, limited academic freedom, and vague research policies, among other factors (CICP, 2016; Heng, 2020b; Kwok et al., 2010; Oleksiyenko & Ros, 2019; Ros & Oleksiyenko, 2018).

Several research studies have shown that Cambodia lags behind many of its ASEAN counterparts in terms of research productivity. For example, Nguyen and Pham’s (2011) study found that Cambodia was among a group of three other ASEAN countries (Laos, Myanmar, and Brunei) that had the lowest research output in the region. Barrot’s (2017) study showed a similar result, that is, Cambodia outperformed only Laos and Myanmar when it came to research performance in the language and linguistics. Other studies by Eam (2015) and Kitamura et al. (2016) also indicated that research involvement of Cambodian academics was very limited. Eam’s (2015) survey of 444 Cambodian lecturers, for instance, revealed that 65% of them did not engage in any research at all.

Heng’s (2020a) recent analysis of research publications indexed in the Scopus database, the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, showed that Cambodia was ranked 8th among the 10 ASEAN members. Specifically, Cambodia published about 3,700 Scopus-indexed documents over the last decade (2010-2019). Thailand and Vietnam had 152,208 and 55,639 publications, respectively (Heng, 2020a).

Overall, as Heng (2020b) noted, “it is common knowledge that the landscape of academic research in Cambodia is far from well-defined” (p. 2). Ros and Oleksiyenko (2018) attributed the limited academic competence of Cambodian lecturers to policy misalignment across different structural layers from superstructure (national) to understructure (individual) levels. They argued:

Although the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport produced policy papers and implemented donor-driven projects such as HEQCIP [Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project], the government failed to promulgate clear regulations and provide guidance on what is required to promote and retain competent academics in Cambodian universities. (p. 31)

Stakeholder collaboration is the key to promoting research

The above quote highlights the significant role of clear research policies needed to guide the development of research in Cambodia. However, to develop a strong research culture, active involvement from all concerned stakeholders is needed. As Heng (2020b) argued, “it takes all concerned stakeholders across different levels—national, institutional and individual—to work together to nurture and promote a vibrant research culture in Cambodia.” He added:

The Cambodian government, through MoEYS and other state institutions, needs to lead the change that seeks to enhance a research culture in Cambodia. Educational institutions and relevant actors at the meso level must adapt to changes, both from above and below, and embrace them. Individual academics and researchers need to rise up to the challenges, exercise their agency and commit themselves to promoting research by actively conducting, sharing and publishing it. (p. 4)

Thus, while the role of the government is vital, the role of other actors is crucial as well. Heng and Rautakivi (2020) recently argued that all concerned stakeholders must address key challenges that prevent the development of a strong research culture in Cambodia. They mentioned four key challenges: (1) a lack of a vibrant research culture, (2) a lack of capable and willing research advisors, (3) inadequacy of local research journals, and (4) a lack of financial support and positive reinforcement (p. 1). They suggested expanding “the availability of local academic journals and other types of publication outlets” by establishing more national journals and institution-based journals (p. 3).

Recognizing the significance of local journals and academic publication outlets in nurturing a healthy research culture in Cambodia, we are working together as a team to manage Cambodian Education Forum (a newly established online publication forum dedicated to education-related topics) to provide a venue for Cambodian researchers, educators, teachers, students, and administrators, especially novice and emerging writers or researchers, to share their perspectives, understanding, and research findings on topics relevant to education in Cambodia and beyond.

In this edited volume, we put together short articles previously published by Cambodian Education Forum. The aim is to contribute to building a strong research and publication culture in Cambodia and to provide opportunities for Cambodian novice and emerging writers or researchers to publish their work in an academic form such as books and journals. We strongly believe that to promote research and publication, we need to start somewhere to build momentum for research and publication (see Heng, 2020b). When more and more people conduct research and publish their work, other people will develop their interest in research and publication. This, in turn, will foster a striving research culture in Cambodia.

Organization of this edited volume

We have organized this book into four parts, starting and ending with our introductory and concluding chapters, respectively. There are 21 short articles contributed by 14 different authors. Some articles (called chapters in this volume) are written as opinion articles, while others are research articles. Overall, the articles address different aspects of English Language Teaching (ELT) and education, particularly online education in Cambodia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part I: English Language Teaching and language policy

In Chapters 2 and 3, Kimkong Heng examines effective English vocabulary learning and English vocabulary teaching strategies, respectively. Both chapters draw from Heng’s (2011) master’s thesis as well as relevant online and academic sources. Useful in these chapters are two separate tables (Table 2.1 and 3.1) that summarize all the English vocabulary learning and teaching strategies. In Chapter 4, Davut Nhem discusses the role of culture in ELT. This chapter specifically looks at the what, why, and how of culture in ELT.

Chapter 5 by Chan Hum highlights key findings from a recently published research article (Hum & Choi, 2020) that examines the formation of language-in-education policy in Cambodian universities. The chapter emphasizes the challenge regarding a lack of clear guidelines for foreign language education in Cambodian higher education. In the final chapter in this part, Kimkong Heng discusses the effect of the global dominance of English, fostering a new trend among Cambodian parents who tend to send their children to English nursery or kindergarten schools before the children are eligible for formal education in primary schools that lessons in Khmer. This practice creates some problems, including a potential identity crisis among some children.

Part II: Online learning in Cambodia during COVID-19

There are nine chapters in this part. In Chapter 7, Kimkong Heng examines the opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic for the education sector in Cambodia. The chapter also briefly discusses Cambodia’s research performance and the initiatives undertaken by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. In Chapter 8, Sopheap Kaing argues that COVID-19 has forced Cambodian HEIs to adopt hybrid teaching and learning. Interesting in the chapter is the different types of the hybrid teaching and learning environment. Chapter 9 by Sokna Sun shifts the focus to the challenges and opportunities associated with online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This chapter concludes with a call for the Cambodian government to invest in improving technological infrastructure to facilitate online education.

In Chapter 10, Seangmeng Sarik drawing on different studies examines the role of information and communication technology (ICT) in sustaining online education amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Chapter 11, Piseth Neak explores the concept of self-direct learning. The author argues that self-directed learning is the way forward for education in the post-COVID-19 world. Chapter 12 by Kakada Uon discusses the challenges facing Cambodian students who study online during the pandemic. The chapter seems to suggest that online learning may not replace face-to-face learning.

In Chapter 13, Sokna Sun takes the discussion into the realm of rural primary education in Cambodia during COVID-19. This chapter examines key challenges confronting primary education stakeholders in rural Cambodia and offers some personalized and potentially practical solutions to address the challenges. In Chapter 14, Sopheap Kaing looks at the implementation of hybrid teaching and learning in Cambodian higher education. The chapter offers some suggestions on how to implement this mode of teaching and learning successfully. Chapter 15 concludes this part. In this chapter, Sokna Sun discusses the challenges that online learning during COVID-19 poses for students and offers some suggestions to improve online learning systems.

Part III: School leadership and education reform

In Chapter 16, Rathana Ly drawing mainly on Hallinger (2009) discusses the significance of instructional leadership and the various roles and responsibilities of school principals. In Chapter 17, Khorry No turns to a recent education reform initiative in Cambodia, that is, the introduction of the New Generation School (NGS) program. The chapter looks at different conditions required to ensure the success of the NGS. Chapter 18 on Language Management System (LMS) concludes this part. In this chapter, Sary Mam explains what LMS is and what its key features are.

Part IV: Curriculum, assessment, and research.

In Chapter 19, Meassnguon Saint reflects upon the definition of curriculum, curriculum types, and curriculum management. The author explains three types of curriculum, including intended, implemented, and attained curriculum. In Chapters 20 and 21, Koemhong Sol drawing on existing research looks at formative assessment and intervention strategies for children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), respectively. Chapter 20 examines the definition, purposes, and benefits of formative assessment as well as the role of feedback in formative assessment. In Chapter 21, the author offers suggestions on how to support children with ADHD.

In Chapter 22, Kimkong Heng summarizes key findings of a recently published article (Heng et al., 2020) that extensively reviews 65 empirical studies on factors influencing academics’ research engagement and productivity. Most interesting in this chapter is Figure 22.1 that shows all the factors found to have an influence on research engagement and productivity of academics across the world, particularly those who are based in developing countries. The last chapter in this part concludes this edited volume. In this final chapter, we discuss key challenges we have encountered working with novice Cambodian authors and researchers to support their research and publication endeavors.


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Heng, K., Sol, K., Kaing, S., & Ros, V. (2020). Introduction: The need to promote a strong research and publication culture in Cambodia. In K. Heng, S. Kaing, V. Ros, & K. Sol (Eds.), English language teaching, education, and online learning in Cambodia during COVID-19: Perspectives from practitioners and researchers (pp. 1-10). Phnom Penh: Cambodian Education Forum.

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