Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Community preschools benefit Cambodian children and parents

By Victoria Enström and Hun Sovadhanak

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/VictoriaEnstrom
Che Al, with her daughters Lina, 4 and Lino 2, values the early learning her children receive at the community preschool.

KAMPONG THOM, Cambodia, 29 May 2014 – Che Al is very proud that her two daughters, Lina, 4, and Lino, 2, both attend preschool in their community. “The community preschool is good not only for the students to learn, but also for us parents to get time to go to work”, says the 33 year old mother from Chamnar Leu commune in Kampong Thom province.

The two girls are lucky. Many people in their commune are illiterate farmers living on less than US$1.25 per day. Without their mother’s support and encouragement Lina and Lino would have dropped out of school to help earn money like so many children in Cambodia. Lino’s preschool teacher Proeus Sophea says that some parents take their children out of school for weeks to grow lotus flowers, cassava, or search for fish.

Building confidence

The lack of available preschools in Cambodia also means that even if children are not working, they do not have opportunities to attend an organized early learning programme until they reach primary school age missing out on an essential educational head-start. During the 2012 to 2013 school year, around a third of Cambodian children aged between 3 and 5, had access to early childhood opportunities.

Al learnt about the importance of preschool from the commune focal point for women and children. Raising awareness changes the norms and behaviour of parents in a way that they support their children attending school.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/VictoriaEnstrom
Proeus Sophea, the community preschool teacher in Khmark village, Chamnar Leu commune, Kampong Thom province, supports the 3-5 year old children in learning numbers and letters through playing.

Al herself left school for good at the age of 9 because her school was far away from her home and her parents needed her to work to support the family. For her children, she wants more opportunities. Children who attend preschools are more likely to enter primary school, are better prepared and less likely to drop-out. “The preschool helps my children get confident and it increases their ability to learn faster,” says Al. Lino’s teacher Sophea adds, “My students are very clever and those I had in the start three years ago have now entered primary school.”

Sustainable support for better futures

Yon Sarom, the commune focal point for women and children in Chamnar Leu commune says, “Support from the whole community is crucial for sustainability.” UNICEF, with generous funding from the Japan Committee for UNICEF, supports the commune with a ‘social service envelope’, a budget allocation that the commune uses to provide vital social services in their communities. In Chamnar Leu the funds are being used to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood education by holding village gatherings for the parents, and providing school materials and furniture.

In the coming year, the commune will provide more furniture for the children and increase the monthly stipend of the community preschool teachers from 60,000 riels (US$15) to 80,000 riels (US$20). In addition, with funding from the Japan Committee for UNICEF, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports trains commune chiefs and focal points for women and children, how to demonstrate to parents the value of early learning.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/VictoriaEnstrom
Parents, Tim Nim, Prom Theuy and Sok Sim (left to right) - pictured with their with their Sour Srey Hang, Lay Bunleap and Phal Srey Khuok - are among those who appreciate the community preschool in Thmark village, Chamnar Leu commune, Kampong Thom province.

Tim Nim and Prom Theuy are also mothers of children attending the community preschool in the village. “Most in our generation in the village are uneducated and therefore we are proud that the children can get schooling. We regret we never studied and therefore want our kids to go to school so that they can have a better future than ours.”

Al is happy when she talks about the progress her children make in preschool. “My daughter Lino really wanted to start community preschool since her bigger sister Lina was already there and the preschool is really close to our house. Now she knows the alphabet,” says Al. According to preschool teacher, Sophea, Lino is the youngest and yet most talkative child in her preschool class. With a big smile on her face, Lino says: “I want to go to school to learn things. I am happy in school because there I can play, dance and sing.”

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