Thursday, May 2, 2013

Community preschools in Cambodia give children the right start in education

Muoy Kea’s grandmother combs her hair ready for school.
©UNICEF Cambodia/ 2013/Ouk
The parents of five-year-old Srin Muoy Kea are farmers with a meagre income, but they know the value of early childhood education and wanted to give their daughter the best chance to prepare for entry to primary school when she is six. So they sent her live with her grandparents three kilometres away in Chamkar Sleng village, Tang Kroch commune, where she attends the community preschool.

Muoy Kea’s 79-year-old grandmother, Mrs. Yos Soy, explains, “There is no preschool in Muoy Kea’s village. That’s why, her parents decided to send her to stay with us. [Her eight-year-old sister], Srin Veasna also went to this community preschool. Now she is in grade two [at primary school] and she is among the best students of her class. Her parents want Muoy Kea to follow her sister’s footsteps. The community preschool is near to my home. I think it was the right decision for my granddaughter, although she is away from her brothers and sisters most of the time.”

Muoy Kea misses living with her three brothers and three sisters but enjoys attending the community preschool where she is learning numbers and the Khmer alphabet, how to interact with others and express her thoughts and feelings. “When I am in my class I like playing games with friends. I also like to build houses with the toy blocks. I have many friends now,” Muoy Kea said.

Helping communes establish community preschools

Muoy Kea dances with her classmates.
©UNICEF Cambodia/2013/Ouk
In rural Cambodia, where only one in every four children currently benefit from early childhood education, UNICEF, with the support of the Korean National Committee for UNICEF, is helping communes establish community preschools for children aged three to five years. In Kampong Speu, UNICEF, in partnership with the commune council, the Provincial Office of Education, Youth and Sports, and the Provincial Office of Women’s Affairs, works to plan, budget and set up community preschools, contributes to the basic teacher salary, and contributes to the provision of teaching and learning supplies including floor mats, paper, note books, scissors, pencils and crayons, and play items such as soft toys, balls, hula hoops, skipping ropes and building blocks.

UNICEF supports 222 community preschools in Kampong Speu province which, in academic year 2012-2013, benefited 7,211 children aged between three and five years; more than half of them were girls (3,762).

Preparing children for primary school
The preschools operate from 7.00 a.m. to 9.00 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and usually have about 20 to 25 pupils. The children are often taught in the space beneath the stilts of the house belonging to the teacher or a family in the community. The curriculum addresses the children’s moral and cultural development, emotional and social development, cognitive thinking and language skills, through story-telling, play, art, dance and lessons in basic hygiene.

Muoy Kea’s community preschool teacher, Ms. Hars Pon, was recruited in 1998 by the commune council. She received her training from the Provincial Office of Education, Youth and Sport as part of the UNICEF-supported community preschool programme. Though the financial reward is small (she receives a small incentive of 80,000 Riel (US$20) per month) she is committed to her job and enjoys helping the children in the village develop the skills they will need to attend primary school at age six.

“When I was a child like Muoy Kea, nobody had any idea about the importance of preschool. There was no such thing in villages,” Hars Pon said. “I think today’s children, especially young children in my village, are very fortunate to have a community preschool. I am happy to see children in my village attend the community preschool. I am proud of being their teacher and helping them prepare for primary school.”

Hars Pon also speaks with zeal about the achievements of Muoy Kea’s elder sister. “Veasna used to be my student and now she is an outstanding student in her class.”

With such enthusiasm it’s no wonder that Muoy Kea wants to emulate Hars Pon. “I want to become a teacher when I grow up” she said, with a shy smile. Attending the community preschool is providing Muoy Kea with the right start to follow her dream.

By Ouk Vannara


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