Monday, May 20, 2013

New boats help ensure regular monitoring of remote schools in Cambodia

One of the boats to be used by District Education Officers to visit floating schools.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Nick Sells
It is baking hot in Boribor district, Kampong Chhnang province. On the Tonlé Sap Lake, the air smells of fish and petrol as the mid-day sun on the water creates an eye-dazzling reflection. The loud roar of boat engines is the sound of parents returning from fishing or going to market.

Inside Ses Slab Primary School, 36 children are busy writing in their notebooks. This is not an average school. It is a floating school on the Tonlé Sap Lake.

The classroom is cramped, but the fresh breeze through the open windows makes it bearable inside. Most of the students live in ‘floating villages’. Their homes are built on bamboo sticks which keep them above the water whether the tide is high or low in rainy and dry seasons.

Multiple classes taught in one classroom
Ky Kim Leang outside his floating school
 © UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Nick Sells

Ky Kim Leang is in Grade 4. He is 13 years old, but looks small for his age. In the dry season he walks for 30 minutes to get to school but when the rainy season comes, he travels to school by boat like many of his classmates.  Kim Leang is taught in a class with children ranging in age from 7 to 14. Schools in this remote area of Cambodia, located on the water with limited facilities, are not a very popular choice for teachers. As a result in many floating schools classes and age groups are combined.
To avoid the daily expense of travelling to school from the mainland, some teachers sleep, eat, wash and prepare their lessons in a makeshift room within the school during the week. Often, teachers only stay for a short time before finding work in popular urban areas or leaving to get married.
Kim Leang’s teacher, Mr. Hem Duong Chanden has no plans to leave any time soon. The 20-year-old started teaching six months ago and is enjoying the experience. “I like it here. This is the area where I am from and I like the fresh air,” he says. “I want to share my knowledge with the children from this area. Therefore I volunteered to teach here, even though it is a remote place where nobody wants to go.”

Monitoring teaching on floating schoolsOne of the challenges facing remote schools is the infrequency of visits and support from staff at the District Education Offices. The role of District Training and Monitoring Teams is to visit all schools on a regular basis to provide education support by observing classes, giving feedback and helping School Directors with the management and administration of their schools.  However, the teams often find it difficult to access schools in hard-to-reach locations including those on the water.

Ambassador of the European Union to Cambodia, Jean-François Cautain, visits Floating School.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Nick Sells
As part of a programme to improve the quality of support to primary schools in remote areas, fourteen boats were donated in March 2013 to District Offices of Education in five Cambodian provinces surrounding the Tonlé Sap Lake and Mekong River. The programme is supported by the European Union, the Swedish Government and UNICEF and financed by the Capacity Development Partnership Fund. The Fund is designed to assist Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to plan and manage education effectively and efficiently and provide quality education for all boys and girls.

The new boats will enable the monitoring teams to help floating school teachers to improve their teaching practice and thereby encourage children to continue in school throughout the year.

“There is strong evidence to suggest that increasing school monitoring has a very positive impact on the quality of education and ensuring children remain in school,” said Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport in Cambodia, Pith Chamnam. Stressing the importance of regular school visits, he said, “It is our expectation that with these boats, District Training and Monitoring Teams will provide useful feedback to teachers on ways to improve their teaching and so provide children with a more stimulating learning experience resulting in more children staying in school and fewer children having to repeat a year or more”.

When the classes finish, children go home in their own boats to the nearby floating villages.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Nick Sells
Mr. Hem is looking forward to the monitoring team’s support.  ”When it is full moon, the children help their parents with fishing at night. Then during the day, they do not come to school. It would be great if [they] can help with this.”

As the end of the school day approaches, Kim Leang prepares to go home. He says he likes school and tries not to miss any classes. In his spare time he helps his parents with fishing but wants an education so that he can travel to other countries when he is older.  Few of the children in Kim Leang’s class can ride a bicycle but when asked, “Who can swim?” everyone raises both hands and laughs ecstatically.  Then they all board their boats and paddle home.

By Iwanna Swart


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