Friday, June 23, 2017

School plants seeds of learning success with new vegetable garden

By Hak Heng

Village chief and head of the SSC Mr. Touch Chreang advises students
on crop cultivation at Chongra Primary School in Ratanakiri province.
©UNICEF/2017/Lim Sokchanlina

June 2017, Ratnakiri Cambodia: Inspired initiatives such as meals sourced from the school’s organic vegetable garden and new sanitation facilities are helping to raise the enrolment rate of indigenous students at a school in north eastern Ratanakiri province.

Touch Chreang – Chongra village chief and head of the School Support Committee (SSC) at Chongra Primary School – said the improvements had been achieved because of proactive intervention activities implemented by the SSC.


The committee has been working hard to improve school conditions and raise awareness about the importance of education within the Tumpuon ethnic community.

 “Our SSC is strong and ensures there is a good breakfast for the students so they like coming to school,” Mr. Chreang said.

“We put an emphasis on hygiene, school environment and nutrition, so the number of students enrolled significantly increases year by year.”

Mr. Chreang has seen a lot of changes in his community since the first school was built in the area in 2005.

“Before 2005, my village had no school because the area was so remote and it wasn’t developed. Now it is completely different than before,” he said.

Mr. Chreang started his career as a volunteer tutor.

The SSC has eight members made up of representatives of local authorities and teaching staff.  It works closely with the community’s elderly representatives.

Mr. Chreang said he explains the value of education to parents so they gradually understand and follow his advice to send their children to school.

Before the school year begins, he also reminds villagers through the community loud speaker system to enrol their children.

“Before, the community didn’t understand, but now they know the importance of education and they send their children to study at school,” he said.

However, obstacles still remain. A lack of transportation, a general poor standard of living and the widespread practice of families migrating to find work are some of the main drivers of school absenteeism and dropout rates.

The SSC said that some students have to travel as far as 10 km to get to school. To address this major inconvenience, the SSC donates bicycles to students resident in remote locations. It also supports students who lack financial resources with study materials.
In addition, the SSC monitors both teacher and student attendance rates and informs the school principal when work performance declines.

The SSC also phones and makes home visits to students who frequently miss school to determine the difficulties they are facing and to offer support and assistance.

“We motivate students who live far away to come to school,” said Mr. Chreang.

“I teach them about education and encourage them to enjoy studying and overcome their study obstacles. This is what we are doing.”

Mr. Chreang was invited by international development organization Care Cambodia to attend a two-day workshop in Kampot province in early 2016.

This event gave him a valuable opportunity to exchange experiences with other teachers and education officers across the country; to learn how to effectively manage the SSC; and how to work with the community to improve education services within their locality.

The workshop was supported by the Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF) – a multi-donor fund implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), with support from the European Union (EU), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and UNICEF.

Mr. Chreang has applied his new found knowledge to improving the overall learning experience at Chongra Primary School.

New varieties of vegetables have been added to the school garden and these are cooked daily for students’ to improve their nutrition – and with an improved diet the students are in a better mental and physical condition to learn.

In addition, the school’s standard of hygiene has improved with new toilets and a hand-washing facility, as well as improvements to the school’s general environment.

These developments have enhanced the school’s reputation, resulting in the increase in student numbers, said Mr. Chreang.

School director Mr. Kun Sambath confirmed that the institution has witnessed its largest ever increase in student enrolment – from 353 students to 403 over the 2015/2016 academic year.

“Mr. Chreang and the SSC play a very important role in promoting students to go to school and raising money from the community and donors to develop the school,” Mr. Kun said.

“They encourage the wealthier individuals in the community to make donations for the common good.”

In early 2016, Mr. Kun attended a 20-day-training course supported by the CDPF in Kampong Cham province. This event focused mainly on teaching, administrative skills and community communication.

Mr. Kun’s capacity to manage the school has now been improved and he has shared his knowledge with colleagues so they can collectively raise teaching standards and improve the school’s physical site.

He said: “Now the community understands that they need knowledge. They push their children to pursue study. If the children are uneducated, they are vulnerable to being cheated,” he added.

For Mr. Chreang, improved education brings a great sense of pride to his school and the wider community, especially within the Tumpuon indigenous population.

“I do the work because I want the indigenous community to be as well educated as other Khmer citizens. This will bring development and improve our livelihoods,” he added.

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