Education is the first step, school is the first stop
Only 35% of children in Cambodia attend grade seven. The majority leave education to begin work at just 12 years old. Even though education is free, the cost of keeping a child in education is too high for many families, as children could bring in much needed extra income by working or by helping out at home so that their parents can work longer hours. In Cambodia the education challenges faced by many developing nations are compounded by the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, whose rule in the 1970s wiped out almost a quarter of Cambodia’s population, dismantled the education system and targeted educated people including teachers. Decades on, Cambodia now has a very young population, 50% are under 22, with not enough teachers (average class size is 45 students) and poor quality teaching due to ‘rote learning’ (memorisation based on repetition) being the traditional teaching method.
SeeBeyondBorders takes an integrated approach to get to the root causes of education challenges in Cambodia, improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools and improving access for students. They provide in-service professional development for teachers, improve school facilities and tackle the barriers to school attendance. Their lead programme uses a ‘teach the teacher’ approach. This involves training groups of teachers to improve their professional knowledge, practice and engagement. Some of these teachers then go on to become mentors to other teachers at their school, spreading their knowledge and skills. This allows SeeBeyondBorders to maximise their impact and longevity, creating a supportive network of teachers who are invested in their own development and therefore provide better education. Their practical interventions to remove barriers to education include health and hygiene education to decrease school absence due to illness, and the provision of bicycles and small conditional cash payments to the families of vulnerable students in low-income families, so children can get to school instead of having to drop out and work.
Voeut Savin, a Teacher at Svay Chek Primary School became a mentor teacher through SeeBeyondBorders. “When I first started teaching, I didn’t care about teaching quality, technique or good classroom management, I just followed the lesson books”. She said. “I have noted now that to be a good teacher you need to focus on quality and ways to make it better and get all students to understand the lessons easier”.
SeeBeyondBorders has developed an innovative approach in Cambodia by fostering support between teachers, head teachers, parents and students. Their success has been recognised by the Cambodian Minister of Education as offering an “exciting opportunity for teachers across the country to be part of a genuinely collaborative and supportive network”. Despite their small size, SeeBeyondBorders has had huge impact, and their approach has the potential to forge sustained, long-term change in communities.
Education is the first step on the road to tackling inequality and school is the first stop.