Thursday, July 11, 2013

Making a difference in Cambodia as a community preschool teacher and peer mentor


In Angkor Chea village, community preschool teacher Mr. Son Lonh reads a story to a packed class of 22 pupils aged between 3 and 6.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Charmaine Gaa
In the village of Angkor Chea, 45 kilometers from the town of Prey Veng in south-eastern Cambodia, 22 children aged between 3 and 6 are sitting tightly on benches under a makeshift tent. All eyes are on the teacher’s picture-filled storybook. Storytelling or picture-reading is part of the daily routine at the community preschool (CPS). It is an activity which older children from the nearby primary school also stop by to enjoy.
The community preschool teacher is Mr. Son Lonh. He is 41 years old and one of the few male CPS educators in Prey Veng province. He is also the deputy chief in Angkor Chea village. Because he only completed primary school to third grade at the time of the Khmer Rouge regime, Mr. Son feels an obligation to educate others. “I could not allow children to grow up without recognizing their names or reading a book,” said Mr. Son.  He loves his teaching role and has developed a deep sense of responsibility for the children.

Initially, it was not easy to find a CPS teacher in this village. The job comes with an incentive of only US$12.5 per month and few were interested in taking the position. However, Mr. Son decided to volunteer and received the endorsement of the commune council. Before starting the job in October, 2011, he underwent 10 days’ training from the Provincial Office of Education, Youth and Sports. As a teacher he is fully supported, trusted and held in high regard by parents and the Village Chief.

Managing children of different ages in a single class

Like many other CPS teachers, Mr. Son has had his share of challenges in managing small children of different ages in a single class. He remembers when young children sometimes cried because they were hungry, bored or seated uncomfortably. Using techniques learned during his training Mr. Son has developed and applied these to keep the children’s attention. Hand-games, clapping and, most of all, story-telling have proved popular. Mr. Son confides, “I present storybooks with pictures every day. Without these, they wouldn’t want to come.”

At the preschool, which operates from 7.00 a.m. to 9.00 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, the children also love the mid-morning break when they throw, kick and play with coloured rubber balls.
Providing mentoring support


Mr. Son (extreme left) supervises children at play during break time at Angkor Chea village community preschool. Classes are held in the tented structure on the right.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Charmaine Gaa
In addition to teaching, Mr. Son has also been mentoring another community preschool teacher since March 2013. Mr. Son is providing peer support to 45 year old Ms. Sim Sakhu who is new to the job. Ms. Sim used to teach literacy classes for primary school students aged 6 to 8 in Grades 1 and 2. Now she is learning how to teach preschool children using the curriculum guide, how to lead group games, sequence tasks for her class, and ensure each activity has an age-appropriate duration. Mr. Son is available for Ms. Sim to call upon whenever she needs assistance. “I am not afraid to ask. I ask him lots of questions. Being new in this job, I need support,” said Ms. Sim.

As both teacher and deputy village chief, Mr. Son follows up on required improvements for the community preschool. A latrine is under construction and a water filter is needed. Funds are also being sought and negotiated at village and commune levels to provide a better location for the preschool and improve the play area. With the help of the village chief Mr. Son was able to borrow benches from a primary school so that the children would no longer have to sit on the ground. They still need a few more as the youngsters often bicker and jostle find a place to sit in the limited space.
These challenges have not dampened Mr. Som’s enthusiasm for the job. He exudes calm and optimism both when advocating for resources at village council meetings or reading stories in the classroom. This community preschool teacher is making a tremendous in the lives of many children in Angkor Chea village.


By Charmaine Gaa

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