Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A teacher’s quest to leave no child behind: How inclusive education enables all children to flourish

By Lenka Tavodova

Ms. Huot in front of her class.  ©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova

Battambang Province, November 2017: Ms. Chheut Huot comes from Phnom Ray village, located in rural Battambang. It is one of the most remote communities in Cambodia and home to 159 indigenous families. Most of these families rely on crops like beans, rice and cassava to earn income which supports their livelihood.

“Education is very important for us indigenous people. I remember a time when nobody in our village could read or write. It is not long ago at all. I might not know everything in the world, but what I do know I strive to use to the best of my abilities. My passion for learning and helping children to do the same is what led me to become a primary school teacher” says Ms. Huot.

Ms. Huot has been working hard to raise awareness about the importance and value of education within her community. These days, the village primary school class has more enthusiastic students than ever, but the dropout rate remains high, around 20 %. This is especially true for children with disabilities and learning difficulties, who often need adapted materials, teaching techniques, support to access the schools, and parents’ support to help them in their learning.

The children of Ms. Huot’s Khmer class holding up their writing boards. 
©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova

Recently Ms. Huot and her colleagues were trained on inclusive education by Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN), a civil society organization supported by UNICEF and Australian Aid.

In the training, Ms. Huot learned how to identify children with disabilities and how to adapt her classroom activities to the needs of those children. In remote communities like Phnom Ray village, where families would otherwise need to travel hundreds of kilometers to reach specialized services for children with disabilities, this makes a big difference.  

Equipped with these new skills, Ms. Huot and her colleagues embarked on a journey to bring all children in the area to school and provide them with the improved opportunity to learn, grow and flourish. 

“Every month we visit our communities. We talk to parents and grandparents to convince them to send their children to school. We try to understand their issues and propose solutions. At times the solution is simple, yet it can make big difference in children's course of life. Other times it is more complicated” says Ms. Huot.   

On one of Ms. Huot’s community visits, she met Chok Chann.  Chann is 7 years old and had been attending school, but had stopped. On this visit, using the training she’s received from KHEN, Ms. Huot identified that Chann was suffering from impaired vision.

Chann and his mother.  ©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova

"I didn’t know that he didn’t see well, but that was the reason why he did not want to go to school”, says Ms. Soeurm Ravy, Chann’s mother. 

With the help of KHEN, Chann was referred to a hospital to receive glasses. He returned to school and Ms. Huot moved Chann to the very front of the class so that he could see better. 

Thanks to her KHEN training, Ms. Huot also realized that Chann had some difficulties with spelling and writing. Now, she makes sure to dedicate extra time to him and provide him with additional materials so he gets the same chance as every other child to learn and excel to his fullest potential. 

Thanks to this extra attention and adapted teaching, Chann now proudly comes to school every day. He can follow the class more easily and his performance has improved. “I don’t know yet what I want to be, but I like going to school a lot. What I like the most is painting” he tells us.

Ms. Huot helping Chann with spelling.
©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova
In the same class as Chann, we find eight-year-old twin brothers Sopheak and Sopheun. Previously, Sopheak and Sopheun rarely attended school because their parents were reluctant to send them as they had difficulty paying attention and following the classes. In order to improve the boys’ learning experience in the classroom, Ms. Huot came up with the idea to get an assistant teacher - Ms. Reuyv -  who could spend extra time specifically with the two boys. Ms. Reuyv has also been trained on inclusive education and her role is to support the boys in their learning. 

Sopheak and Sopheun.  ©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova

“We are beyond excited to see that by having Ms. Reuyv with us the parents agreed to bring the boys to school. They believe that she can help them develop and learn, and with her help the boys are doing great and are more attentive”, says Ms. Huot.

Ms. Reuyv together with Sopheak and Sopheun in class.  

©DRIC/2017/Lenka Tavodova

“Every child needs to get education to reach their full potential. I do not make any difference between children with or without disability. I just try to teach them the best I can. Everyone deserves the right conditions for them to learn. There's nothing I want more than to see my students grow and make their dreams come true. If they have an education, they can get a job and get more opportunities. Education opens the world, regardless if you want to stay in your village or go somewhere else” Ms. Huot concludes.

KHEN is providing this inclusive education support, among other forms of support to children with disabilities, in collaboration with UNICEF, through the Cambodia Disability Inclusive Development Fund (CDIDF). This is made possible by grants from DFAT, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the UN joint programme DRIC. 

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