Friday, October 20, 2017

Preschool champions promote early education for all children

By Monique Rao

Children sing songs during class at Community Pre-school (CPS)
Multi-lingual in Kouk Poy village, Laok Commune,
O Chum District, Ratanakiri Province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Charles Fox

Kratie Province, Cambodia, October 2017 – Teachers, school directors and community members are mobilizing support to influence more parents to enrol their children in community preschools (CPS) so they can get a head start on learning opportunities.

The campaigners are hopeful their collective voice will convince parents who think their children are too young, or too small to attend preschool classes will rethink this stance.

A UNICEF evaluation, conducted last year with the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI), on the Community Preschool Modality found substantial evidence that most CPSs address the needs of children aged three to five in terms of access and enrolment to a quality early childhood education.

CPSs are also relevant to the needs of the most disadvantaged, worst off children through the establishment of schools in areas in which state schools are not providing a preschool education.

Early childhood is the most significant time for development as it provides vital learning opportunities and a foundation for future academic success.

Pre-school attendance also means children are more likely to start primary school at the right age and do well once they get there.

The UNICEF evaluation established that children who attend CPS classes are more literate and have better education-specific skills, social skills, knowledge of good hygiene and nutritional practices.

Additionally, their parents were found to be more aware of their children’s improved capacities and progress.

One such beneficiary of the CPS system is six-year-old Sing Kakada from Chhour Kroch village in Kratie province.

After moving to a home directly opposite a primary school which houses a CPS, his mother Mao Chan Bol wasted no time in enrolling him in preschool.

This year has been Kakada’s first experience with preschool and he loves it. His mother said that even if his clothes are still wet from being washed he tells her he doesn’t want to stay at home – “I don’t care, I want to go to school, I can wear any clothes.”

His mother sees the value of sending her son to preschool, since she herself is illiterate and she “doesn’t want her children to follow her same path”.

She hopes Kakada can one day be a teacher or a doctor. Kakada said he wants to work in the medical field like his father who is employed at a community health clinic.

Since attending preschool, Mao Chan said Kakada is very happy, sings new songs he has been taught in classes and is constantly telling her what he has learned such as consonants and vowels and a new array of vocabulary.

Because of her positive experience with the CPS, Mao Chan encourages her neighbours to enrol their children.

Mao Chan said: “Some of the reasons parents choose not to send their children to preschool is because they believe they are too small or not ready enough to go to school and be able to learn.”

Kakada and his mother at their home in Chhour Kroch Village, Kratie Province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Lauréline Borotto

This point was reflected in the UNICEF CPS evaluation, in addition to the finding that children with disabilities have a more difficult time accessing CPS because either their parents are not aware of the opportunity to send their children to preschool at such a young age, or they believe children with disabilities are not ready for preschool and are better off at home.

Kakada’s CPS teacher Kheng Samol said she routinely goes around the village and asks parents to send their children to the CPS, including those with disabilities.

She stated that in her class of 45 students, she has two children with disabilities. Despite no formal training to deal with these children, she includes them fully in activities so they can benefit in the same way as other children.

Although the national target age for preschool is three to five years-old, too many parents believe this is still too young for their children to attend. It is not uncommon for children to start school at the age of nine for the first time.

The point of the UNICEF-supported Cambodia Community Preschool Modality is that it is initiated and monitored by commune councils – hence the term Community Preschool Modality.

The initiative has been created to establish CPSs in areas that do not have a state-run preschool in order to increase access to early childhood education for children aged three to five.

As a part of this community-based approach, a localized school support system was developed, called the School Support Committee (SSC).

SSCs are composed of teachers, elderly residents, parents and school directors. Feedback from community members about SSCs has been highly favourable and they are attributed with playing an instrumental role in mobilizing resources and support for CPSs.

Notably, they have helped support commune councils initiate enrolment campaigns ahead of the new school year.

Going out to villages and speaking with parents to let them know a preschool has opened near-by, or to see if they have any children who are eligible to attend has been a crucial practice in awareness raising and increasing enrolment and attendance rates.

SSC members also help to monitor attendance by conducting home visits to see if there is anything they can do to support parents, or inquire the reason why their child has been absent.

Similar to Kakada, who originally lived too far away from a CPS to attend, this is a common issue across Kratie province.

However, with continued strong support from SSCs and commune councils and effective communication and awareness campaigns, UNICEF hopes that more parents of young children can be reached and encouraged to enrol their children in CPS.

This approach will enable these children to get a head start in learning and prepare for progress to Grade One. UNICEF’s vision is for all children to realize their rights to an education, a happy healthy life and to reach their full potential. The foundation for all of these can be laid with enrolment at a CPS.

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