Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Developing Cambodia’s first ever national diploma in special needs teaching

By Lisa Kim

Bunthaong (left), 15, and Sreylin (right), 14, read in the Krousar Thmey school library in Phnom Penh   © UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Lisa Kim

It’s a Tuesday morning on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It’s hot and sticky outside, but inside this small school library, Sreylin, 14, and Bunthaong, 15, are buried in their books. There’s a lot to learn - both students have recently completed primary school and are adjusting to ‘secondary school life’ in 7th grade.

Sreylin and Bunthaong both have visual impairments. Sreylin has low vision and is able to read with specially-made materials, while Bunthaong is blind and has learned to read braille. They both have access to inclusive education and attend a Krousar Thmey school. Inclusive education seeks to cater to the learning needs of all, with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion including children with disabilities.

Krousar Thmey is a local non-governmental organization specializing in education for children with visual and hearing impairments. The school Sreylin and Bunthaong attend – one of five Krousar Thmey schools in Cambodia – provides education to around 190 students (110 deaf children, 60 blind children and 20 children with low vision).

Sreylin enjoys going to school. Her favourite subjects are IT, English and social science. “I especially like social science because I enjoy learning about history and international relations between neighbouring countries like Vietnam and Thailand,” she says. Sreylin lives with her mother, father and younger brother. After school, one of her family members usually picks her up to go home. “After school, I like to read and watch TV at home. I also do my homework and some housework to help out.”

A specially-made tactile globe with braille text, at the Krousar Thmey school in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Lisa Kim

Bunthaong loves practicing his English and wants to become a translator one day. “I like to surf the Internet and use English. I also like to go on Facebook and chat with my friends,” he says. Bunthaong’s family live in Kampong Speu province. He moved to Phnom Penh in 2012 to attend the school, where he stays in the boarding accommodation. “I go back home during holidays like Khmer New Year, and my family come to visit me often,” he explains.

Sreylin and Bunthaong study in the Krousar Thmey school in the morning and go to a mainstream state school in the afternoon. This two-track approach allows children with disabilities to receive the tailored support they need, while also interacting with wider society and developing important life skills to thrive in different environments.

Supporting inclusive education

There is currently no national diploma course in Cambodia to train teachers to teach children with disabilities – a clear barrier to their participation in school.

As a result, and thanks to financial support from Starwood through UNICEF Australia, UNICEF is working in partnership with Krousar Thmey to support the government to develop Cambodia’s first national diploma course in special needs teaching, focusing on visual and hearing impairments. It is hoped that many more children with visual and hearing impairments – together, the most prevalent disabilities in Cambodia – will have access to quality education.

Sreylin and Bunthaong in the playground of the Krousar Thmey school in Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Lisa Kim

UNICEF and Krousar Thmey, with funding with Starwood, will also support the government to update its current pre-service training for teachers. This will make the training even more practical and relevant to the needs of children like Sreylin and Bunthaong.

In the meantime, Sreylin and Bunthaong’s stories paint a picture of hope, opportunity and the flourishing potential of differently abled children in the right settings.

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