Monday, September 8, 2014

Community preschools give children the best start in life

By Rowena Campbell

Beng village is a small, rural village in Kampong Trobek District, in Prey Veng province. 741 people live here growing rice and raising cattle. A Community Preschool (CPS) has been built on the teacher’s land and here teacher Nak Sokhom has been teaching 3 to 5 year old children since 2005.

Ms. Sokhom’s preschool classes are held for two hours a day, five times a week in a colourful and bright room, built and decorated with UNICEF support and funding from IKEA and the Australian Committee for UNICEF. Drawings created by the children hang on the walls, bright paper bunting is strung across the room and two big bowls of water sit in a corner below a bright pink towel. With ample space, the pupils can play and learn freely and safely.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Rowena Campbell
Teacher Ms. Sokham teaches 3-5 year olds at Beng Community Preschool

With support from UNICEF and IKEA, Beng village introduced pre-school learning in 2000 but it wasn’t until 2005 that a plot of land was found to build an established pre-school. ‘Since we built the proper shelter we’ve been able to decorate the room. Before it was difficult as I had to teach in someone’s house where there were constant distractions and I didn’t have as many materials to help me teach,’ says Ms. Sokham.
Ms. Sokham dedication to teaching children and making real change is recognized throughout the village. Phan Seng who has been the village chief since 1986 says, ‘before the children were very weak in terms of education and early learning. The parents too did not pay attention to education. I noticed since the pre-school that children are better in terms of respect to adults and elderly and when they move to primary school, they stay there, and they don’t drop out. I am very pleased about this.’

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Rowena Campbell
Children learn to count at Beng Community Pre-School
Progress has not only been made in terms of education, but also hygiene. During class Ms. Sokham teaches the children the importance of washing their hands. After a break when the children play outside on a slide and with the games supplied in the classroom, she makes sure they all wash their hands with water and soap and dry them on the big pink towel. They sing a hand washing song to remind them why it is so important. ‘They learn about personal hygiene at school and they take this learning home to share the message with their parents to wash their hands before eating,’ says Ms. Sokham.

©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Anne-Sophie Galli
5 year old Srey Pov washing her hands with soap and water at Beng Community Preschool

Attendance at the preschool has increased over the years. Vong Sophaon is the commune focal point in both this village and the other seven covered by this commune. She builds trusting relationships with families over time which allows her to encourage parents to enroll their children at pre-school. ‘Before parents did not understand the importance of early learning. I explain to them how it increases a child’s confidence, that when they go to primary school they will learn better and they are able to play in a safe, fun environment’, says Vong Sophaon. ‘Now parents want to send their children to pre-school without too much encouragement from me!’

Community Pre Schools are vital in giving children the best start in life. The authorities come together to make sure they have the right support and the best possible teacher. The commune focal point for women and children not only mobilizes young children to attend, but also monitors the school regularly to ensure the teaching standard remains high, as well speaking to any parents when it has been noted that their child has been absent from class.

UNICEF and IKEA funding allows the Provincial Office of Education (POE) and Provincial Office of Women Affairs (POWA) to work together on recruiting the best possible teacher and ensuring his/her training before they start and also a refresher day course every year.  In addition a group from the POE, District Office of Education (DOE), Provincial Office of Women Affairs (POWA) and the commune focal point for women and children, come together once a month to hear the difficulties faced by the teacher. This meeting is used to provide support and advice. By working together this pre-school in Beng village is supporting hundreds of children in developing the cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills they need to succeed in life.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad that these children are benefiting from preschool. My granddaughter is almost old enough to go to preschool. I want it to be a great experience for her, so that she will enjoy learning.

    Susan Hirst |