Thursday, February 16, 2017

Building bridges to better learning

By Heng Hak

Marja Sosef discusses how to implement education management 
and planning systems with local government and education officials in Kratie Province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Kimlong Meng 

A Dutch educator is using her 39-years of experience to help officials in Cambodia create superior education management and planning systems – and ultimately brighter futures for local children.
After nearly four decades of working as a teacher, adviser and director at a number of schools, Marja Sosef wanted a new challenge as a volunteer and this led her to Cambodia.

Sixty-year-old Marja said she always wanted to work in a developing country after travelling the world and witnessing children denied learning opportunities their counterparts in developed nations get as a basic right.

As specified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “Every girl and boy in the world should get a free, quality primary and secondary school education.”

Marja came to Cambodia in July 2016 after securing a position with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Kratie province, 250km northeast of the capital Phnom Penh. VSO is one of the implementing partners of a joint initiative to develop capacity and strengthen the education system in Cambodia through the Cambodian Education, Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF).

It is being implemented by the Ministry of Education and Sports and is supported by the EU, Sweden and UNICEF. In her role as an Education Management Adviser (EMA) to the District and Provincial Offices of Education, known as the DOE and POE, Marja works with directors at DOE and POE levels in six districts in Kratie Province.

Marja said: “I like it here in Cambodia. People are very friendly. They take time to explain things about their culture. They approach me very nicely. I feel confident here.”

Her job is to build the capacity of DOE and POE officers, including school directors and other key personnel. She prepares workshops to improve their management and planning skills, as well as advising them on how to make and format annual operational and school development plans that have a clear objective.

She has also taught officials a method to identify and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Over the last five months, Marja has also trained 248 school directors, and taught district education officers how to support directors with the creation of school development plans.

She said: “For any plans to work effectively, cooperation is needed from multiple stakeholders. We talk a lot about the importance of how to involve stakeholders because making a plan needs [people] to work together, not alone. You do that with relevant and important people.”

Marja said the directors she works with are enthusiastic about establishing efficient and effective school development plans. She said these have to be in place by the start of the school year in September to properly take effect.

“I hope that they can make a good school development plan next year because I’ve trained them and now they have to make and do it by themselves,” she said.

Last year, she said only one district made a development plan but after her training courses, more districts are equipped to implement a strategic plan of action. She said they now know what they have to do and how to implement the development plan. When these are implemented effectively, the education standard gradually improves and students get improved resources and better instruction.

“I am proud that I have trained almost all the primary school directors in Kratie,” Marja said.

Chief of the Provincial Planning Office Meas Virath, who shares his office space with Marja, expressed appreciation for her advice and training. He said this had helped build the capacity of local education officials.

“Her instructions on how to develop and put plans into practice, to effectively use the state budget, and lessons in monitoring and evaluation have also been beneficial. She is helping my work. She gives me a lot of experiences through her volunteer work. She is helpful and friendly,” he said.

Marja has identified her remaining challenges until the year-end. Among these, she said her trainees are in need of greater support from the ministry in order to do their job more effectively.

“People are working in a position without the right skills. They get very low salaries, [so] many have a second job. That is a pity because there is not enough time to improve themselves in education and [there is] a lack of budget to do the right things.

“It is also hard to find local education staff using computers to work on their documents. Hard copy is the preferred format and although [an] Internet connection is available, they hardly use it for work.” She said this approach wastes both resources and time.

Next year, Marja plans to travel through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. After this, she will take on another development role – which may bring her back to Cambodia.

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