Monday, December 31, 2018

From community preschool to primary school: Ensuring inclusive education for children with disabilities

By Coline Dumoulin,

Chhim Vin (on the left) during class at L'ak village.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin
Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia, December 2018: At L’ak village primary school in Ochum district, nine-year-od Chhim Vin goes back to class after the break and directly sits next to his best friend, Ya Rean. Like all his classmates, he is quietly listening to his Grade 1 teacher who is explaining the importance of washing their hands. If he is paying so much attention, it is because he realizes the value of education even though it has not always been the case. Because of disability in his leg, he did not want to go to school for a very long time.

Trying to motivate him and prepare him for Grade 1, his father, 49-year-old Chhim Kangoy, sent him to attend community pre-school (CPS) classes when he was 6 years old. However, he quickly dropped out because he was bullied by other children. At that time, the CPS teacher had not received training on inclusive education and did not know how to act. Hurt by the mockeries, Chhim Vin did not want to go to school anymore, and his father understood that decision. However, thanks to the intervention of Kuy Chantrea, the commune chief, and to a community awareness campaign conducted on inclusive education, the family was convinced and decided to send him to the multilingual primary school in L’ak village.

The CPS class in L'ak village.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin

Since then, his life has changed, getting up early and walking to school every morning. While he knows he wants to continue to study up to higher education, he is still undecided on what he wants to become. “I would like to work with computers or to be a teacher,” he said. Nevertheless, if there is one thing he is certain about is that he wants to succeed at school. “I am happy to go to school every day to see my friends and to learn new things,” he added. Aware of his disability, he knows that it would be harder for him to work in the rice fields and that education is the key that will give him a job.

Chhim Vin with his mother, Katik Ploum and his father Chhim Kangoy.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin

Therefore, almost every day before going to bed, he asks his older sister to teach him the Khmer alphabet. Chhim Vin is not alone and can count on the support of his parents and of his 4 older siblings. His father, who is a farmer, has always encouraged his children to go to school. His plan for his younger son is clear. “I want him to go to lower secondary school in Ochum district. Then, for high school, he will have to go to Banlung. My older son is currently studying at university thanks to a scholarship. I want the same thing for Vin” he explained.

To ensure that his son is not bullied at school, Chhim Kangoy has had many discussions with the commune chief, the village chief and the teacher. Aware of this issue, the teacher is taking special care of Chhim Vin, making sure that he is well integrated in the class.

Kuy Chantrea, the chief of L'ak commune
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin

Chhim Vin’s family is also supported by the commune. In 2017, the commune council members received a training from the Provincial Investment Division on inclusive disability in sub-national planning. This training supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Interior equipped local authorities with knowledge and skill to plan actions for support for people with disabilities. Chhim Vin received a uniform when he was studying in the CPS. In December, the commune will receive money from the Provincial Treasury to provide uniforms and school material to Chhim Vin and fourteen other children with disabilities. This support will only be given to students who are currently enrolled in school as explained by Kuy Chantrea, the commune chief: “We want to promote education for everyone. It is important that children with disabilities go to school and receive education”.

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