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Rural folk adapt to school closures

Harrison White / Khmer Times Share:
Students gather for an informal class in Siem Reap province as nationwide school closures continue. KT/Harrison White

Cambodia’s students from rural and remote areas are continuing their education by looking to alternative pedagogy as communities organise group-learning sessions amid nationwide school closures.

Khmer Times was able to see first-hand the informal classes operating in Siem Reap province last week, organised by the local school principal and community members, with the paper-based lessons taught to between six and eight school children held in a local household repurposed as a makeshift classroom.

The informal lessons have been implemented due to the community’s limited and unstable internet connectivity and lack of smart devices to access the e-Learning modules created by the Ministry of Education.

In an interview, the principal of the local government school said the students chose to attend the classes to ensure learning continuity while schools remain shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it was revealed that many children were not able to attend the sessions as parents decided to keep them home to assist in either farm or house duties, as the sessions’ gender balance is reported to consist of 80 percent girls.

In response, Katheryn Bennett, chief of Education at Unicef Cambodia said the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Unicef and other development partners, has been expending efforts to cater to the distance learning needs of students, especially those from rural and remote areas.

“Having a diverse range of distance learning programmes means that students, including those from rural schools, have the opportunity to continue learning [albeit at a] distance with support from their parents and teachers,” she said.

She said policies created by the ministry must be implemented in consideration of the diversified needs of city and rural schools.

“Having national policies that provide an inclusive and equitable framework under which education services are provided is essential. In the delivery of education services, it is also important for schools to have sufficient autonomy to make decisions that best respond to their particular context, including the learning needs of their students,” said Bennett.

“While school closures remain in place in Cambodia, it is essential for distance learning programmes to continue to be made available to as many as children as possible, so that children can continue to learn. These are difficult times, however, if children don’t have the support of their parents and teachers to learn, they will be at greater risk of falling behind.”

The Education Ministry last week announced its plans to reopen 15 ‘high-quality’ private international schools, including Japanese, English, American and French institutes, with approximately 20,000 students, as a test case.

Spokesman Ros Soveacha added that the ministry is working with relevant parties, especially the Ministries of Health and Finance, on the gradual reopening of schools based on health measures and socio-economic factors.

Data from Unicef Cambodia revealed that since 2007, the number of children enrolled in early childhood education has more than doubled. The number of children enrolled in primary education has also increased, from 82 percent in 1997 to over 97 percent in the school year 2017-2018.


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