Thursday, October 26, 2017

The secret to successfully running and maintaining community pre-schools

By Monique Rao

Class activity in a community pre-school in Sokang Commune, Kang Meas District,
Kampong Cham Province to promote early childhood education.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Giacomo Pirozzi

Kratie Province, Cambodia, October 2017 – Opening community-based preschools in areas where there are no such facilities – either state-run or private – has been a central part of providing access to early childhood education for children in Cambodia.

But how can you open a school or keep an existing school operational if you do not have any teachers or cannot retain the existing teaching staff?

These are some of the many difficult challenges communities and their governing councils across Cambodia are facing.

This issue surfaced in a UNICEF evaluation on community preschools (CPS) in Cambodia, conducted last year in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI)

There are over 2,000 community-based preschools nationwide, but a worrying number are closing due to a funding shortfall and teachers resigning.

Therefore, in order for CPSs to remain open, be successful and to give children the opportunity to get the best start in life, teacher retention is a critical factor.

Two communes, Bos Leav and Thmor Andoek are positive examples of communities that were able to address the teacher retention challenge that is prevalent in Kratie province and across Cambodia and their intervention offers a beacon of hope for other, more challenged communities.

Kheng Samol, 29, has been a teacher at Chhour Kroch Community Preschool in Thmor Andoek Commune for eight years and she displays a passion for education.

She said she is motivated by the desire to “help children in early learning with their emotional, physical, intellectual and social development” which is exemplified by the number of children who visit her at her home – something she finds deeply gratifying.

It is evident Kheng is driven to teach by her unbridled passion to help children learn and develop, but aside from job satisfaction she has an extra incentive to remain in the classroom. 

Thmor Andoek Commune Council – which is in charge of budgeting, including teacher’s salaries – allocates 300,000 Riel (about US$74) per month for every teacher.
Comparatively, the average CPS teacher salary in Cambodia is around 200,000 Riel (about US$49).

This extra income helps to incentivize teachers like Kheng to stay in school. This same aspect of financial incentive was also reflected in the UNICEF evaluation which established that a regular, higher salary is a strong factor towards teacher retention.

Another facilitating component is the peer-support Kheng receives and is able to give back from her eight years of teaching experience.

Part of the support commune councils provide to staff is two teacher training refresher courses annually.

In between these training events, Kheng also takes time to meet with two other pre-school teachers to share experiences from their training.

Kheng also imparts her new-found knowledge with Grade One teachers at the primary school where her CPS is based.

Kheng Samol sitting outside a classroom
in Chhour Kroch Community Preschool
in Thmor Andoek Commune, Kratie Province.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/
Lauréline Borotto

This information exchange between teachers has yielded positive developments. For example, Kheng has replicated the writing instruction curriculum taught to Grade One students with her own CPS children so they are better prepared when they progress to Grade One.

Findings from the UNICEF CPS evaluation also showed that a lack of guidance, supervision and networking among other CPSs was a contributing factor to their closure, which highlights the vital importance knowledge exchange has.

Successful teacher retention in the Bos Leav Commune is attributed to similar reasons in the Thmor Andoek Commune, but they have other influencers such as an abundance of potential teachers that are available to train. 

Much of the population within this community has received an education to at least Grade 12, resulting in a pool of budding teachers.

Teachers are much more likely to succeed if they have completed, or have at least partially completed a secondary education as those with a higher education level are more likely to understand and replicate the curriculum better and bring more innovation into the classroom.

This presence of human resources has enabled the functioning of five CPSs in eight villages in Thmor Andoek Commune, in addition to four state-run preschools. Some communes do not even have half this number of CPSs.

Similar to Thmor Andoek Commune, budgeting for pre-schools at Bos Leav Commune doesn’t seem to be a problem. Although the budget can be restrictive, they are making sure to set aside 10-15 per cent of their social services budget for CPSs.

This fund covers teacher’s salaries, furniture, instruction materials and school monitoring inspections.

The commune currently pays their teachers 250,000 Riel per month (about US$62) and plan to increase this to 300,000 Riel in 2018.

In addition to financial support, Bos Leav Commune Council and parents in the community provide teachers with other types of in-kind support such as teaching materials and rice for school meals.

Bos Leav Commune Council also holds monthly meetings with teachers to address any problems or concerns that they may have.

This type of feedback loop and open communication is a huge factor that facilitates the success of this commune’s sustainability of their CPSs.

Like Kheng Samol employed in the Thmor Andoek Commune, Bos Leav Commune officials expressed the view that teachers are generally “passionate about teaching and helping children to grow”.

They also believe the two hours per day CPS teaching commitment is another major motivator that helps retain teachers – an enabling factor that was highlighted in the UNICEF evaluation.

Twelve hours of class per week allows CPS teachers to pursue other income generating activities.

Findings of the evaluation show that if communes such as Thmor Andoek and Bos Leav maintain positive incentive policies such as decent and timely salaries, flexible working hours and the provision of other support, it is more likely teachers will be willing and happy to stay in the classroom.

UNICEF continues to offer support to local commune councils so children can get the best start in life, maintain their physical, intellectual and social development and get a solid foundation for future learning success.

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