Thursday, June 22, 2017

Towards ending violent discipline in Cambodian schools: Teacher training helps create a safer and encouraging learning environment for students

By Hanna Persson and Theavy Leng

Grade 6 students relate their experiences of positive discipline.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Theavy Leng

Battambang, Cambodia, June 2017 – It is early morning and the start of a new school day for students at Panha Primary School in the north-western region of Cambodia.

Excited students walk in to their classrooms with a noticeable spring in their step and many exude an air of confidence.

This is because the on-site learning environment has become more child-friendly because of improved student-teacher relationships.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) and UNICEF recently launched Cambodia’s first-ever teacher training programme on positive discipline in order to create a more inclusive learning environment, with improved learning outcomes.

Positive discipline is by definition non-violent and founded on a child rights-based approach and more constructive teacher-student relationships.

Teaching staff and the principal at Panha Primary School are among the first nationwide to undergo the training programme which aims to raise awareness on the negative consequences of corporal punishment and a teacher’s responsibility to ensure a more comfortable learning environment for students.

Following completion of the training, the teachers were provided with instruction materials and tool kits to manage classrooms through a positive teacher-student relationship approach in which conflicts are resolved without the use of violence.

In order to ensure that the school maintains positive discipline training for teachers on a regular basis, MoEYS and UNICEF also provided guides for training facilitators. The trainers comprise of education staff from district education and provincial education offices, as well as senior school leaders such as directors or deputy school directors.

Despite the fact that corporal punishment is prohibited in Cambodian schools, it is common for teachers to use physical violence in classrooms.

The Cambodia Violence Against Children Survey from 2013 described students’ personal experiences of both violent and non-violent discipline handed out by teachers in schools and the magnitude and nature of the violence they experienced.

When asked about their reaction to incidents of violence directed at them, both female and male students said they felt ‘embarrassed’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’ and ‘scared’. Some said they no longer wanted to study or attend school.

Global research has shown that violence has many negative effects on children, including linkages to failing their studies, dropping out of school early, developing violent attitudes and suffering mental and physical health issues.

“I did not realise the significant impact negative words and corporal punishment can have on the classroom environment and students’ learning experiences until I received the training,” said Sin Chek, a Grade 6 teacher at Panha Primary School.

The positive discipline training aims to foster secure and child-friendly classrooms so students can feel comfortable in talking with their teachers about violence-related issues.
With this in mind, who would be better to create a more child-friendly environment than the children themselves?

Deputy school director Iab Sothen proudly claimed that the positive discipline training has created a collective push to create a more enabling learning environment in the school.

Ms. Iab said: “All our teachers have worked together with their students in each class to establish classroom norms involving the children.

“A group of five to seven students from each class have been identified as leaders who discuss the issues related to classroom norms/rules/disciplines with the rest of the children in class with support from the teacher.

“Everybody has had a chance to provide their input, their perception or thoughts.”
Grade 6 student Reaksmey happily described the improved situation on campus.

She said one of the teachers previously punished Grade 5 students for perceived mistakes by sending them outside to stand under the heat of the sun while other children continued their learning.

Reaksmey said this has all changed and children previously rebuked with undue punishment are now enlisted to help other children during the school break with routine tasks such as carrying water to the school garden.

New classroom rules collectively developed
by students and teachers at Panha Primary School.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Theavy Leng

School directors and teaching staff said the training has increased their understanding of how an inclusive classroom environment, with positive discipline approaches, strengthens the confidence of children while learning.

Ms. Sin said she has noticed an encouraging transformation while teaching. “Interestingly, now I can see the big change when I appreciate children and use encouraging words consistently,” she said.

“Children seem to change their attitude very quickly. They become good listeners and confident learners. Their level of respect to me has also increased and I could feel that it is from their inner side and could last for long.”

The training intervention has not only improved student-teachers relationships, it has also helped children to feel more confident and comfortable at school.

Grade 6 student Loeng Sokha said: “Children in the classroom seem happy to accept positive discipline as they know in advance about the classroom rules as these were elaborated by themselves.”

One of the teachers, Sotheary said more students than ever before are doing their homework and they spend more time learning.

This is proof of the effectiveness of the training which has led to the creation of a more inclusive environment at Panha Primary School, with the associated benefits of enhanced student-teacher relationships and improved learning results.

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