Wednesday, February 11, 2015

All aboard for early childhood education

By Hun Sovadhanak and Jemma Somervail. 

KAMPONG THOM, Cambodia, 11, February 2015 - It’s early in the morning and community preschool teacher, Ms. Chim Chhun Hoeurn, 43, is using her own boat to ferry some of her students across the Stung Sen river, which divides the small village of Kampong Svay in Kampong Thom province, some 200 kms north of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Hoeurn’s 20 pupils aged 3 to 5, come from some the poorest families in the community and she goes out of her way to make sure they can all get to school at 7:00 a.m.

Ms. Chhim Chhun Hoeun ferries her pupils to and from the community preschool.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Hun Sovadhanak

“I have to walk them from my house to the river to get aboard on my small boat and I ferry them on my boat which I row myself. There are 10 students crossing the river every day with my boat. I have to ferry them back home when the class finishes at 9:00 am,” says Hoeurn.

Giving hope to the village 

Cousins, Tha Phanna aged 4 and Khon Sokhea, aged 5, are two of Hoeurn’s pupils who have to cross the river to attend the community preschool classes held five mornings a week. They live with their families in adjacent small huts on the river bank. Tha Phanna lives with his mother and grandmother. Soon after he was born, his father left for Phnom Penh to look for work but never returned and never sent any financial support to the family. However, the community preschool gives his mother Chantheng, hope for Phanna’s future. She has seen how much her son has learned after only two weeks.

 “My son is very clever. He could count the numbers, differentiate the colors and objects, knew the names of the animals,” said Chantheng.

In addition to acquiring fundamental reading, writing, counting, and language skills, the children also learn about personal hygiene as part of the health and physical development component of the preschool curriculum. This benefits not only the children, but also their families and wider community – something which Phanna’s mum has noticed.

“He now stops playing directly on the ground and he cleans his teeth every morning. He even tells me to wash my hands with soap before eating.”

Tha Phanna with his mother, Chantheng.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Hun Sovadhanak

Khon Sokhea lives with her mother Tin Chanthen and three siblings. Her father works on construction sites in Phnom Penh earning 20,000 Riel per day (US$5) and sends some of this home every month to the family.

Chanthen is delighted that her daughter is doing well at the community preschool. Said Chanthen, “Sokhea is eager to learn new things and she wants to go to school every day even the holidays…She knew the numbers and letters very well and she could read although she is not yet a primary school student.”

The importance of early childhood education

There are currently eight community preschools in Kampong Svay village. The first opened in 2011. UNICEF in Cambodia, with funding from the Australian Committee for UNICEF, is helping communes to establish community preschools for children to provide them with critical in cognitive, physical, social and emotional abilities and prepare them for entry into primary school at the age of 6.
UNICEF works in partnership with the commune council, the Provincial Office of Education, Youth and Sports, and the Provincial Office of Women’s Affairs to plan, budget and establish the community preschools, contributes to the basic teacher salary, and contributes to the provision of supplies for teaching, learning and play.

Khon Sokhea (second left) at home with her mother, Chanthen, and sisters.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2014/Hun Sovadhanak
Community preschools are located in villages where no state preschool exists and where there are a sufficient number of preschool-age children. Local authorities monitor the teachers, to ensure the level of education is maintained, but also to encourage the students to attend, and inform parents if their child is absent.

Both Phanna and Sokhea are enrolled in class for the new school year in November. Their mothers, who were both only educated up to grade 8 (age 13-14), are grateful their children have this opportunity to learn. They praised community preschool teacher, Hoeun, not only for her dedication to teaching and hard work, but also for making sure the pupils can all get to school despite the fact that some live in isolated areas.

After seeing how enjoyable it is to learn and grow, and with the support from their teacher and parents, Phanna and Sokhea say they would both like to be teachers when they grow up.


  1. A very interesting read and a great post all together. Thanks for sharing.
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  2. I always wanted this type of information and I am really delighted to find it in this blog post.

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  3. How inspiring isn't it? How many children and teachers are experiencing this for the sake of education and for the better future in each country? I just realize that early childhood education is really important even a river can't stop.