Samaki Meanchey Primary School director Tap Savy© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Bona Khoy
has worked tirelessly to transform the school
from a muddy ‘no-go zone’ to a green paradise.
Banteay Meachey Province, Cambodia, March 2018 – As we enter Samaki Meanchey Primary School in the border town of Poipet we are greeted by the welcoming smile and vivacity of school director Ms Tap Savy.
Ms Tap is quick to start our tour and our first impression is of a green, peaceful and well thought-out site.
There are two playgrounds equipped for children of different ages, a neat garden and a clean and well-kept environment.
This is in stark contrast to the dusty, rubbish-strewn street we just walked along and a far stretch from how the school looked a few years ago.
A previous educational evaluation listed Samaki Meanchey as one of the province’s underperforming schools.
It was consequently chosen as a target institution as part of a new school improvement model called Sala Komroo Knong Khet Komroo, or ‘paradise schools’. [Find out here more about the paradise schools model]
Ms Tap has been director for five years and was previously a teacher at the school.
She has used her own initiative, feedback from community members, staff and students, plus Sala Komroo principles to transform the school into a model institution.
Her long-term, unwavering commitment to improve the school site and overall education delivery is obvious.
Consequently, it now provides high quality learning for local children, with priority for those living in poverty or separated from their parents because of migration.
The Sala Komroo model improves schools by strengthening the skills of educators – helping staff set clear targets and putting into place evaluation methods that help schools run more efficiently.
It works at all levels including at director, student, parent and community, up to government department level.
The initiative has been implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), working closely with NGO Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) through the Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF), implemented to strengthen Cambodia’s education system.
The CDPF is a partnership between MoEYS, the European Union, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agenda (Sida) and UNICEF that began in 2011 in collaboration with non-governmental organizations such as VSO and Care International.
Through Sala Komroo, Ms Tap received training and mentoring specifically designed for school directors to help them improve their school management capability.
The approach also strengthens communication links between schools, as well as with district and provincial offices of education so these enhanced relationships can collectively improve education services.
Through all of these inspired initiatives, the results at Samaki Meanchey Primary School are astounding.
Samaki Meanchey Primary School yard is clean and well organized.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Bona Khoy
Ms Tap showed us photos of the school from 2008 where the low ground was regularly muddy and prone to flooding, sometimes up to knee height which prevented students attending class.
The windows and doors of the classrooms were also open, exposing students to storms and a deluge of water in the rainy season and a blistering hot sun in the dry season.
The grounds were also polluted, devoid of playground equipment and littered with rubbish. Furthermore, parents and local communities were not engaged with the school.
With such a detrimental environment, it is not surprising that only 20 children attended the school in 2010.
Ms Tap knew she must do something to turn things around for the children in her community.
The first improvement was to construct a brick pathway from the entrance to the classrooms so staff and students could physically access learning areas during the flood-prone rainy season.
Then, Ms. Tap built bridges with local community members by regularly inviting them to visit the school so they could see the challenges that lay ahead.
With greater transparency and community involvement she was able to solicit donations for school improvement work.
“When they got to see the improvements they were surprised. They said that they never imagined the school could be like this,” she said.
Ms Tap now holds regular meetings with community members, teachers and parents to brainstorm ideas for change, which she records and implements.
This is one of the approaches that evolved from her Sala Komroo training. The school improvement model encourages intensive engagement from all stakeholders so the entire community can be a force for positive change.
All of these efforts have helped transform the school which is now filled to capacity with 450 students, from pre-school up to Grade 6.
Other developments include collaborative student and teacher activities, such as a biodiversity garden in which different classes have responsibility for producing vegetables and flowers.
There is also a library on wheels and a mobile kitchen where children learn essential life skills. Part of the playground has been constructed from recycled materials, which was suggested by Sala Komroo mentors.
Through Sala Komroo training and principles, the school environment has been transformed into one that children want to be in – evidenced by the huge upsurge in enrolment and children’s ability to enjoy playing in the school playground when class is not in session.
Ms Heap Sotheary, a teacher at the school since 2011, said: “Children like the school a lot, especially when they see that the environment is as nice as this.”
Students are also enjoying school under Ms. Tap’s leadership. “There has been a lot of change,” said Kong Vanna of Grade 6 who has attended since pre-school. “I am very happy here,” she added.
Ms Tap’s ambition and commitment has created genuine change, but she still has bigger dreams.
She wants to expand the school to so more children can access their basic right to a quality education and make Samaki Meanchey Primary School a model school under Sala Komroo principles.
“I have big dreams, so we never stop. Even if it’s slow, we continue to work forward,” she said.”