“What is your future dream?” volunteers asked high school students.
“To be a teacher!” answered one student.
“Who else wants to be a teacher?” volunteers asked.
Surprisingly, most students in the classroom raised their hands. Only a few students answered with other occupations.
“Why do so many of you want to be teachers?” asked a volunteer.
One of her colleagues answered, “Because they do not know enough about other careers besides teaching.”
At Hun Sen Chan Thnal high school in Kompong Speu province, students have limited information about their future career options. Poor internet access means teachers and parents have minimal knowledge about careers available outside of their community and career counselling services are not readily available in all public schools. In addition to underdeveloped career education, the dropout rate is high. Parents often encourage their children to work rather than further their education in order to contribute to the family finances. “Parents do not see the point of education because they themselves are uneducated,” noted Mr. Yen Thol, the school’s director. “It is a pity that talented students often drop out of school because they could have easily secured a job.” He is trying to raise awareness by holding meetings with parents in cooperation with local authorities. However, Mr. Thol has been struggling to convince locals of the importance of education because no one in this community has become successful as a result of his or her education. “People do not normally listen to what teachers say, but will do so if there is a role model from this community demonstrating the connection between education and employability.” The youth face many obstacles when trying to make an informed decision about their future careers to be able to pursue their dreams.
Ms. Kith Vourchky, a university volunteer, noticed this community issue and applied to the Community Action Challenge (CAC) with a team of 15 other volunteers. An initiative launched by the Cambodia Volunteering Network (VolCam), the CAC aims to encourage young people in Cambodia to identify a problem in their community, design a solution and take action to solve the issue. In 2017, VolCam provided financial support and capacity-building training to seven selected youth teams so that they could sustainably run their projects.
Ms. Vourchky’s “Dream and Goal” project aims to raise awareness about the importance of education and to encourage students to keep studying and following their dreams. “As a team, we believe that self-motivation is the most important element for realizing one’s dreams,” declared Ms. Vourchky. Based on this belief, the team held a workshop to better inform high school students about their career options. The team provided students with information about universities, subjects available at college, potential career paths for each subject and the expectations of each occupation. They also offered guidance on finding scholarship opportunities as well as searching through job listings. In addition, a teacher spoke about the academic and career path that led her to realizing her dream. In order to show a wider picture of various types of careers, medical students also shared details about their university life and future dreams. Following the session, students freely asked questions to the team. When one student asked how he can overcome obstacles, the team offered some words of wisdom: “Sometimes people may deny your dreams even though they do not know what you are capable of achieving. Believe in yourself. The only one who knows your true capability is you.”
Thanks to the session, 26 high school students were inspired by the team to keep following their dreams. Apart from this success, though, the experience informed the team of the complexity of the issue and its many contributing factors – not only students’ self-motivation but also career education at school, accessibility to information and parents’ awareness. Therefore, before starting their next project, they will investigate and analyze what causes these issues to find the most effective way to approach the problem. And to tackle the issue more efficiently, they plan to ask for technical support from local authorities or experts.
“As a CAC volunteer, I gained lots of experience that I never had before,” remarked Ms. Vourchky. She explained that, through the CAC, her teammates learned skills including project management, leadership, facilitation and financial management, all of which will be helpful in their future careers.
The issue of career education cannot be solved overnight, but the project has served as an important first step. Both the volunteers and the community members are learning that the problem does exist and are becoming inspired to be strong role models to improve their community.