Sunday, March 10, 2019

Scholarship programme produces positive impacts for community in Kandal

By Latifah Azlan

12 year old Thay Sopheak reads a book with a smile on her face 
at the library at Russey Chroy Primary School in Sa’ang district, Kandal province. 
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

KANDAL Province, Cambodia, March 2019 – Russey Chroy Primary School is located deep in Sa’ang district of Kandal province. To get to school, students travel on dirt roads by foot, on bicycles or motorcycles weaving through busy traffic of large lorries and construction vehicles.

Thay Sopheak (12) gets to school on her aunt’s bicycle. She enjoys going to school, but it comes at a great cost to her family.

In Cambodia, public schools are tuition-free, however there are costs associated with going to school that make receiving basic education out of reach for some of the poorest and disadvantaged families.  Sopheak’s mother, Ny Sokphai, works hard, but her salary as a garment factory worker does not stretch far enough to cover Sopheak’s school needs.
“Some days, I can’t even afford to give pocket money to my daughter for her to buy food at school,” says Ms. Ny Sokphai. With each term, it was looking more unlikely that Sopheak would continue to go to school.

However, the feeling of disappointment and worry swiftly turned around when Sopheak was selected to receive a scholarship from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS).

The government’s scholarship programme helps children at risk of dropping out remain in school and provides funding for those who want to return.  With the scholarship, children from the poorest families have access to an education.

Students receive a total of $60 in three instalments a year. “If there was no scholarship, I would have a lot of burden in paying for Sopheak to go to school,” Ms Ny Sokphai said as she explained that she uses the funds to buy stationery, books and her daughter’s school uniform.

The Capacity Development Partnership Fund (CDPF) programme – a multi-donor fund implemented by MoEYS is committed to strengthening Cambodia’s education system. The partnership advocates for the expansion of the government’s scholarship programme.

Though the scholarship programme has been extremely helpful, School Director Mr. Chea Samnang believes it can be improved. He explains the amount of the scholarship does not fully cover the costs of attending school, saying that many families need the funds not only to buy learning materials, but also for transportation or to buy food.

“The students at my school who receive this scholarship have benefited a lot from it but there are still more students who need to be helped,” he explains, adding that the strict criteria used by the school’s scholarship selection committee excludes many students who may need the scholarship but do not necessarily qualify.

For example, some students are typically nominated over others such as those who carry an IDPoor card and who perform well during school exams. While these requirements ensure that disadvantaged students receive support, it can also exclude others who may need the scholarship but do not meet the criteria. According to Mr. Samnang, the committee also evaluates the eligibility of each nominated student by visiting their houses and families before making their final decisions.

Thay Sopheak stand up in class and answers a question 
with a big smile at Russey Chroy Primary School. 
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

CDPF partners (European Union, Swedish International Development Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Global Partnership for Education and UNICEF) hope to increase the effectiveness of the scholarship programme by encouraging the government to increase its national budget for scholarships to ensure the most disadvantaged children receive assistance and remain in school.   

An evaluation of the programme is being conducted to determine how best to reach more children in need.

“The scholarship is important for these students because it reduces the impact of poverty on kids who want to go to school but might not be able to,” says Mr. Samnang. “This increases the access to education for members of the local community, and we make sure to explain the reason for a student’s selection to receive the scholarship to avoid other villagers from becoming jealous.”

Currently, the scholarship is provided to students from Grades 4 to 6, which means that children in younger primary school grades are not able to apply for this kind of support. The late disbursement of scholarships, after the start of the school year, is another challenge that can sometimes cause some students to drop out of school in favor of working in nearby factories.

12 year old, Thay Sopheak sits on the side of her home while her father, Sot Thy, 
helps her with her homework at their house. 
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

“The dropout rate at our school has decreased, while the transition rate of students into lower secondary school has increased,” My Samnang says, adding that parents’ attitudes towards their children’s education have also improved for the better – they are now more invested in their children’s education and performance at school.

 “If the scholarship was increased, I hope to buy a bicycle for Sopheak so that we don’t have to worry about her transportation to school anymore,” says Ms. Sokphai.

There is a consensus from recipients and school staff that the scholarship is making a huge impact in the lives of many children in Sa’ang district. Thanks to the funds received, the poorest villagers can now send their children to school and it is hoped that more children in the future will benefit from this critical financial support to continue and finish their schooling. 

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