Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Children with disabilities flourishing at school

By Anna Nordenrot

Pich Set Vimol (front left) sitting with friends outside her classroom at Krong Kampot Primary School in Kampot.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Anna Nordenrot

KAMPOT, Cambodia, 11 August 2015 – It’s break time at Krong Kampot Primary School and hundreds of children are playing in the schoolyard. 11-year-old Pich Set Vimol, however, prefers to spend her breaks in the classroom. “Because of my disability I cannot run around like the other children. I have colouring pens and paper, so if I don’t feel like going out I enjoy drawing pictures instead,” she tells me with a smile.

‘Smiling’ is perhaps the best way to describe Vimol, who studies in Grade 5 and lives with her parents and three siblings in Muoy Ousaphea village, Kampot. Upon hearing her story, I cannot help but wonder if it is Vimol’s positive attitude that has helped her to overcome her difficulties and become the successful girl that she is today. She explains to me that in 2009 she fell and badly injured her leg. “I fell and hit a rock that broke my leg. The injury did not heal very well and my leg broke twice more after that.” Vimol was in such a bad state that she could not attend school for five months and today, although back in school, she cannot walk without assistance.

Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in Cambodian society and are often excluded from education, compounding their situation further. However the help that Vimol receives in school ensures that her disability does not restrict her learning. “In school there is a wheelchair that I can use and the teacher always pays extra attention to me. I do not have to go to the blackboard to write. I can write in my notebook and the teacher comes to me,” she says.

Vimol’s teacher, Soy Dany, has received UNICEF-supported training on inclusive education. To ensure that Vimol did not fall behind during her absence, Ms. Soy sent Vimol’s twin brother home with exercises and learning material for her every day. “During my injury, I was worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in school and that I would fall behind, but that didn’t happen. When I came back to school my teacher gave me extra attention and always asked, ‘Can you follow? Do you need help to walk?’ Now I am keeping up with my classmates,” Vimol explains.

Pich Set Vimol in her Grade 5 class at Krong Kampot Primary School in Kampot.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Anna Nordenrot

In 2011, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to deliver training to all of the teachers at Vimol’s school. During the training they learned how to identify and assist children with disabilities and they receive refresher training every year. “Before I received any training on inclusive education, I didn't know how to assist children with special needs even though I was trained as a teacher,” Ms. Soy explains. “Now I know and I can provide the children with the right material and assist them in different ways to make learning easier.”

Grade 5 teacher Soy Dany, who has received UNICEF-supported training on inclusive education, outside her classroom at Krong Kampot Primary School in Kampot.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Anna Nordenrot

Four years ago, the inclusive education course was integrated into the national teacher training curriculum and it is now a compulsory subject for all teacher training colleges in Cambodia. This inclusive education framework helps to guarantee that all children, like Vimol, take part in and contribute to Cambodian society without any limitations.

This is also Vimol’s dream. When she grows up her plan is to work at a bank and improve the living conditions for her whole family. When I ask if she believes that she will achieve all her goals, she laughs and says, “Yes! Because I am in school!” After that, her friends help her get into the wheelchair to go home, but not before she turns around and looks back, once again with that big smile on her face.


  1. First May is not official name of Cambodia village, please go to http://db.ncdd.gov.kh/gazetteer/view/index.castle for referencing the name of village in Cambodia. As it is a source of Ministry of Interior with support from GIZ.

    1. Dear Sokmeas Uy, thank you very much for your comment! I have now updated the text to reflect the correct name. Best wishes, Sam