Over 10,000 indigenous children across the country are expected to benefit from a multilingual education (MLE) by 2018, according to CARE Program Director For Ethnic Minority Women Jan Noorlander. The group believes its efforts will open doors for indigenous children to communicate with the 90 percent of Cambodians who speak the national language, Khmer.
Started as a pilot teaching program in 2003, MLE has helped over 5,000 indigenous children in pre-schools and primary schools to become literate in their own indigenous language as well as Khmer. CARE said the number of students is estimated to double by the end of 2018.
“When we started out in 2003, there were six schools with around 120 students. In total, more than 5,000 students have gone through MLE or are in MLE,” said Mr. Noorlander. “The aim of the national action plan is to reach 10,000 in 2018.”
Launched yesterday in Kratie province, the National Action Plan projects to the end of 2018 and hopes to expand the number of multilingual teachers and schools across Cambodia. The plan hopes to have 64 more pre-schools and 108 primary schools in response to the demand.
Experts at CARE say that students can learn a second language easily if they practice it while using their native language. Studies from CARE have shown that the dropout rates of indigenous student are lower when they learn Khmer after having a strong foundation in their indigenous languages.
Kratie, along with Steung Treng, Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and Preah Vihear, is among the five northeastern provinces that have integrated MLE into their provincial curriculum for indigenous children. The system was introduced in state schools in Ratanakiri province by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 2007-2008 through cooperation with CARE, UNICEF, and other key partners.
The sons and daughters of various minority groups can now communicate in the national language and are working as community teachers, staff at local NGOs, or small business owners in their own communities.
Krunh Kesung, community elder of the Tampoun indiginous group in Ratanakiri province, acknowledged that MLEs had a significant impact on her community after they were implemented.
“The people in my community are now able to read and write in our own Tampoun language, as well as, the Khmer language,” said Ms. Kesung. “This helps them to communicate with Khmer speakers when doing trade or working. Some of them have become teachers in their community.”
The students at MLEs begin their early childhood education in their indigenous languages trained by the teachers. They are later introduced to Khmer words.
The transitional phase starts from grade 1, when the classes are mainly taught in their own languages, but the national language is slowly introduced. By the time they reach grade 4, the classes are then conducted in Khmer.
To date, five ethnic minority languages, such as Brov, Tampoun, Kreung, Kavet, and Phnong, are used in the MLE program. In Cambodia, there are a total of 24 different ethnic minority languages used. The plan also hopes to include more of those languages in MLEs.