Thursday, May 2, 2013

Child friendly schools help Cambodian children enjoy learning

National policy, training and monitoring increase primary school completion rates in rural Cambodia
Kim Houn (left) and his friend Nap Sophea (right) are in grade 1 at school in a rural area.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Nelson Rodrigues
Six year old Kim Houn lives in Kantreang commune in a rural area some 30 km from the tourist hub in Siem Reap city. He is in grade one at the state-run Tropeang Thnuol primary school in Prasat Bakong district, Siem Reap province.

When asked his opinion of school Houn quickly answers, “I like it very much. Here I can play in the swings and I feel happy when I come to school…My favourite subject is Maths… and when I grow up I want to become a teacher.”

Houn enjoys going to school because it is ‘Child Friendly’. Tropeang Thnuol is fully implementing the government’s national ‘Child Friendly Schools’ policy which aims to ensure that children enjoy good quality teaching and learning in a gender-sensitive, safe, learning environment, with adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Even though school achievement is usually lower in rural areas, Houn’s school is one of several in the district which are showing excellent results. The 2012/2013 Education Monitoring and Information System (EMIS) revealed that the district had a lower dropout rate than the national average. More remarkable is that in a province where approximately 20,000 children aged 6 to 11 are out of school (just over 15 per cent according to the Commune Database, 2011)  only 620 children (or 7 per cent) are out of school in Prasat Bakong district.   

Over the past ten years the quality of teaching and learning has improved considerably throughout the country. This success is due in no small part to the collaboration between UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) in implementing Child Friendly School policies and maximizing the use of District Training and Monitoring Teams. The Cambodia government adopted ‘child friendly schools’ as a national education policy in 2007 following a UNICEF-supported pilot in six provinces in the early 2000s. The policy aims to create schools that nurture the well-being of every child.

Creating a Child Friendly School
Ten year old Onn Manpat also attends Tropeang Thnuol primary school and is in grade 6. “I like my school because it is a big compound, with a library filled with books and nice gardens,” says Manpat. “My school director is also very friendly and she comes and greets us two or three times per week.  I also like her because sometimes she supports poor students with school bags and uniforms. My teacher is also very good and she teaches us many things and explains how we can prevent accidents when we are playing.”
Mrs. Hem Tonhey maps and tracks households where children have skipped class or are at risk of dropping out.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Nelson Rodrigues
Mrs. Hem, Tonhey has been teaching since 1984 and became the director of Tropeang Thnuol primary school in 1990.  As a member of the District Training and Monitoring Team for education, she is proud of her school’s success and ongoing efforts to improve it. With her staff she has managed to reduce ‘drop-outs’ by establishing an outreach to parents. In collaboration with teachers, student council members and student volunteers she also identifies and maps households where students have skipped classes or are at risk of dropping out. In addition, the School Support Committee, including community leaders and subnational authorities, is very active and meets at least twice a year to develop and review the school work plan.

Training and Monitoring for Quality Improvement
Houn’s teacher Ms. Sam Noury says that she is better at her job thanks to the support of the school director in her role on the District Training and Monitoring Team. Ms. Sam has been a teacher for 11 years and has a real passion for teaching writing in Khmer language. However, she faced a challenge when young students in grade 1 found it hard to write the Khmer alphabet script because they did not have great dexterity with pens and pencils. Of Mrs. Hem she says, “She gave me precious help when I needed to teach the vowels. She taught me how to create small ‘letter boxes’ where students can practice their calligraphy and that meant better results.” This child-centred technique helped 6 year old Nap Sophea who sits next to Houn in class, “Now my favourite subject is khmer language” says Sophea. 

Mrs. Hem says ongoing training and monitoring have made all the difference in her school. “This is a good strategy and I can see this by the way that the teachers currently challenge themselves in doing things differently from manuals and try new approaches to suit their students. Besides it’s a double sided strategy, it builds capacity among the staff and improves the learning of the students. I think that this cooperation strategy is like planting a tree. UNICEF has planted a tree, the flowers are the District Training and Monitoring Teams, and together we will produce good fruits which are our students.”


By Leng Phikun and Nelson Rodrigues

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