In a villager’s house, I heard loud voice of children repeating Khmer numbers after a teacher. One little boy was asked to say numbers in front of all, but he remained silent, just pointing out a number written on a board. Someone told me, “He cannot speak by nature.” I did not know what would happen next. Then, the other students started to repeat numbers loudly after he quietly pointed to the numbers. At this moment, I realized how important it is that all children, even those with disability, are given the equal opportunities to learn in this class.
Community Action Challenge (CAC) is a project which encourages young people in Cambodia to take action and find a solution on issues in the community. VolCam provides financial support and capacity building training so that young people in the community design and provide the solution. “Quality of Education in Kompong Chen Cherng” is one of the projects that we have decided to support. The project brings together underprivileged students who cannot keep up with classes or drop out of school and students in higher grades who teach them basic subjects such as literacy in Khmer or mathematics. The team has recruited 7 primary school students as “small teachers” and a school director provided a one-day training for them about a teaching method. A total of 68 students, including dropout students, slow learners, children with disability and an ethnic minority, regularly attend tutoring sessions taught by small teachers.
In Trach primary school, Komgpong Thom province, a high dropout rate is a serious issue. According to the school director Ms. Heng Soneu, 25 percent of the students cannot keep up with classes and 6 percent of the students drop out of school. There are many reasons why so many children have such problems.
The first reason is poverty. Some children in a poor family cannot afford to buy study materials or uniforms. Some of them need to help around house or their parents’ with their jobs to support their family.
The second one is that some parents still think that education is not important. Many parents make their living with low-qualified jobs in constructions or as workers in factories, others have some small business or work as a farmers and they are often uneducated and illiterate. Since they believe that education does not always lead to well-paid jobs, they do not encourage their children to go to school.
Last but not least is that different students have different learning needs. Some students struggle with rigid schedules and traditional curricula, and for the teachers it can be difficult to engage and inspire the students to learn. In addition there are high ratios of students to teachers – there are only 4 teachers for 252 students in the whole school. With 45 to 55 students in a class, teaching is not an easy task. In such large classes, teachers cannot dedicate extra time for the slower students. It is also difficult to attract people to join the teaching profession, particularly to rural areas. School director Ms. Heng comments, “In the first year I started working here 5 years ago, my salary was 120$ per year.” Although, monthly salaries have now been increased to $200, attracting and retaining teaching staff remains a challenge.
Teachers are trying to overcome these issues by holding meetings with parents, visiting villagers’ houses, and conducting campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of education. However, they lack financial resources to provide students with study materials and provide extra classes for slow learners. Therefore, she appreciates the CAC project since it meets the school needs.
Mr. Mao Oun, the team leader of this project, believes that education is the most important tool for community development. He noticed the needs of special aid for vulnerable children such as dropout students or children with disability by visiting villagers’ houses. He has three plans to make sure that the project will be sustained in the future. First, he is planning to recruit more volunteer teachers among older students. Second, he is planning to conduct a training for tutor students not only once but every three months so that they can be more confident in teaching. Last but not least, he is planning to include lectures related to environmental issues in tutoring sessions. The system he created will be maintained by school teachers, villagers, and students in the community even after the CAC ends.
This project is an ideal way of community development since students themselves help their community without relying on aid from outside.