Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No child left out: Including Ethnic Minorities in Cambodian Primary Schools

By Sok Thol

In a multilingual programme, Ly Vanarasmey, 15, could first learn in her native language as well as learning Khmer at the same time.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Sok Thol

RATTANAKIRI, Cambodia, 9 July 2014 – Ly Vanarasmey, 15 is currently a grade 6 student at Krolong multilingual primary school in Ochum district, Rattanakiri province. She is the oldest child in her family and has two other siblings. Her sister is a grade 2 student and her brother is in grade 1. They all attend the same multilingual programme in their school because they speak Kreung at home as opposed to Khmer, the official language of Cambodia.

Ly Vanarasmey says that the multilingual education programme in her school has allowed her to learn and understand Khmer easily. When she was in the first three grades, she studied both Khmer and Kreung. “That’s why it became easy for me to understand both of the languages”, she says. “If my teachers had only taught me in Khmer it would have been very difficult for me to understand anything because I am from the Kreung community just as my previous teachers”.

In Cambodia, the Khmer ethno-linguistic group is estimated to make up 90 per cent of the population while the rest consists of other indigenous groups such as Kreung, Tampuon, Broa, Jarai, Phnong, Kouy and Stieng. Other minority groups in Cambodia include Lao, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai populations. The 2008 census revealed that 70 percent of the children living in Rattanakiri were not mother tongue speakers of Khmer. The same census also showed that a high 41 percent of non-Khmer mother tongue speaking children had never attended school.

Since 2002, UNICEF with funding from the Government of Sweden, in partnership with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the NGO CARE has set up multilingual programmes in primary schools in five of Cambodia’s 24 provinces, supported the development of multilingual teaching and learning materials in five indigenous languages and multilingual teaching training for teachers.

In multilingual schools, students in grade 1 study 80% of their classes in their native language and 20% in Khmer. As the students’ knowledge of the Khmer language grows, the amount of classes taught in Khmer increases in the following years. In grade 4, all classes are taught in Khmer. This way, students are well prepared for secondary school where the teaching language is Khmer only. Ly Vanarasmey, who is now in grade 6, says she understands perfectly what her teacher says in Khmer.

When Ly Vanarasmey completes her primary education she would like to continue her studies in the provincial town. Her dream job is to become a teacher in her community; “I want to teach my brother, sister and other children in my community”. Ly Vanarasmey is fortunate that her parents encouraged her to attend secondary school because many of her friends’ parents do not share the same view. “My parents want me to be more educated than them so they don’t want me to drop out. But some of my friends’ parents asked them to drop out of schools because they don’t believe in education and say: if you study, there’s nothing to eat so please go and work in the farm. In contrast, my parents have told me that I have to study hard so I can get a decent job when I grow up. Then, I will have enough money to help my parents”.

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