Monday, February 18, 2013

Community preschool in rural Cambodia gives children a head-start in education

6 years old girl is ready for primary school as a result of attending a preschool.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Hun Sovadhanak
Parents in Prey Kuy commune have been singing the praises of the community preschool since it opened in 2011.

Mrs. Phath Soveun, a farmer, is pleased that, as a result of attendance at the community preschool her six-year-old daughter was well prepared to enter primary school.

“I am very happy because my daughter can recognize some letters of the alphabet, has basic mathematics and she even can sing songs and dance. Besides becoming smarter, she also became more polite. Every time she comes home she greets us with perfect ‘sompeas’ (the traditional Cambodian greeting and demonstration of respect),” Mrs. Phath said.

Mr. Sam Chamnap, the commune police chief, said the preschool had benefitted both his six-year-old son, Soeng Manith, and the rest of the family.
“[He] had outstanding academic achievement this year because of his enrolment in the community preschool before entering school. He likes reading and is incredibly sociable with his friends and neighbours. He was even honoured with the best student award when he completed grade one! Because my children are in a safe environment, I can work more, [and] it helps increase our family income,” Mr Sam said.

Prey Kuy is a remote commune on the outskirts of rural Kampong Thom province, some three hours’ drive from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Only one out of every four young children in the province has the opportunity to go to a state preschool. Consequently, UNICEF, with support from the Japan Committee for UNICEF, has been working in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Interior, to establish and support community preschools in 321 communes in 12 provinces.

Community preschool, Chhorn Nga and her pupils practice their “sompeas”.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Hun Sovadhanak
 Ms. Chhorn Nga teaches 15 children at the community preschool in Prey Kuy commune. Surrounded by drawings and paintings made by her pupils aged between two and five, she says children are now better prepared for school.

“Before, when there was no community preschool in our village, children wouldn’t want to go to primary school and cried every time they had to go. Now, because they are able to attend preschool, they are better prepared for school. I see them more eager to attend primary school classes.”  

Ms. Chhorn received her training as part of the UNICEF-supported community preschool programme. Teaching and learning supplies such as paper, notebooks, scissors, pencils, crayons and floor mats are provided, along with play items such as knitted soft toys, balls, hula hoops, skipping ropes and building blocks. 

Ms Chhorn Nga’s classroom is full of drawings and paintings by her students aged 3 to 5.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Rodrigues
 There is only one state preschool in Prey Kuy commune, and it is only for children aged between three and five years. It helps them prepare for primary school just a year prior to registration. It has a limited number of places and its location makes it difficult for many children to reach. Across Kampong Thom province, UNICEF has supported the establishment of 241 community preschools in 38 of its most disadvantaged and remote communes. The community preschools have not only improved the lives of children, but also helped to empower those who are now teachers.

Ms. Chhorn compares her life now with her upbringing in an extremely poor family in the darkest chapters of Cambodian history during the Khmer Rouge regime.
“I had no opportunity to study or wear the pretty school uniforms…I just felt so proud of myself when I went to my first training for community preschool educators and then even more encouraged when my neighbours and friends called me ‘neak krou’ [teacher].”

Though she started with only a few chairs and a chalkboard between the stilts under her house, Ms. Chhorn persuaded commune authorities to let her use a small   structure which was previously a library. Dozens of parents and other villagers helped her relocate and reassemble the structure closer to the homes of her students. She not only provided swings for the children to play on but with knowledge received from the community preschool teacher training, she made sure that the school was near to a water source, so the children can wash their hands after playing, after using the toilet and before eating. 

For the children of Prey Kuy, Mrs Chhorn and the community preschool are giving them the best start to develop mentally and physically in readiness for primary school.

1 comment:

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