Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dedicated community preschool teacher boosts attendance and makes early learning fun

Preschool students giggle and shout, “hoot-hoot,” as they join in with a folk-tale about animals narrated by their teacher Ms. Chap Chandy.  For the 25 children at the Kwan village community preschool in Kampong Speu province, stories with actions and sound-effects that they can imitate are fun and memorable especially when learning about values like honesty, sharing, and perseverance.
Community preschool teacher, Ms. Chap Chandy tells a story about forest animals to her students in Kamong Speu province.
© UNICEF Cambodia/ 2013/ Charmaine Gaa
Ms. Chandy (43) has been teaching since 2010. She takes pride in her ability to keep the youngsters in her class interested and engaged and makes low-cost materials from sea shells, sticks and pebbles to illustrate colours and numbers. Ms. Chandy learned these techniques during a UNICEF-supported 10-day training course conducted by the Provincial Office of Education, Youth and Sports. Following the training, she received teaching and play materials including storybooks, pens, paper and notebooks.

Ms. Chandy’s preschool classes are held for two hours a day, five times a week in a large room built with funds contributed by parents and community leaders. With ample and fenced outdoor space, the pupils aged 3 to 6 can play freely and safely. In the absence of playground equipment, the children use their imaginations and enjoy games like tag and piggyback rides.
Students give each other piggyback rides at Kwan village community preschool.
© UNICEF Cambodia/ 2013/ Charmaine Gaa
At the end of each class, the children help their teacher to put everything away so that the room can be used for other community activities. Stacking the chairs together by colour and size provides another opportunity to learn mathematics-related comparing and grouping skills.

Ms. Chandy’s patience and creativity endear her to the children’s parents. “She comes to the community preschool even with her hectic schedule and she remains nice and polite. Some children come even on Sundays,” said one parent. They are also pleased that their children are learning good hygiene practices at preschool. “Our children remind us to wash our hands before and after eating,” said another parent.

During her first year as a teacher, Ms. Chandy earned the trust and confidence of parents as she diligently went house-to-house explaining to parents the importance of early childhood education.  Preschool attendance is generally quite high although it drops when some parents take their children with them to the forest to gather firewood to earn a living.
Stacking chairs at Kwan community preschool in Kampong Speu province, helps a 4-year-old learn about colour and size.
© UNICEF Cambodia/ 2013/ Charmaine Gaa
Commune council focal point for women and children, Ms. Doak Saroeurn explains that Ms. Chandy is one of the best preschool teachers in Khtum Krang commune. There are currently 11 preschool teachers who each receive a monthly allowance of US$20: a US$5 increase over last year’s monthly amount.

The allowances are made possible with funding from the Australian Committee for UNICEF. This support also contributes to the provision of preschool teaching and learning supplies including floor mats, paper, note books, scissors, pencils and crayons, and play items such as soft toys, balls, hula hoops, skipping ropes and building blocks.

In recognition of the teachers’ efforts and to help reduce their departure for higher-paying job opportunities outside the village, parents also complement the teachers’ remuneration with donations. Parents contribute 100 kilograms of rice to Ms. Chandy every year. However, Ms. Chandy says her greatest reward is seeing the children enjoy learning, “As long as the parents keep sending their children to the community preschool, I’m here to stay and serve.”

Commune council chief, Mr. Pheng Sia, who meets monthly with the community preschool teachers, acknowledges the challenges of hiring and retaining competent people. He looks forward to receiving an increased budget from the government so that the commune can provide attractive incentives for preschool teachers. “This village is very far and we only have four state-run schools for 18 villages in this commune. Parents have problems sending their young children to the primary schools due to distance and the absence of a public transportation system. If we can maintain our community preschool classes, our children will definitely have better opportunities to be literate,” said Mr. Pheng Sia.

With UNICEF support, generous contributions from the Australian Committee for UNICEF and in collaboration with local, national and sub-national government partners, the number of community preschool classes in Cambodia increased to 1,115 in 2013 from 942 in 2010.

By Charmaine Gaa

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