Student profile – Savong’s School

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Chai Chun lives at the Rokar Monastery just 1km away from Savong’s School. 

My name is Chun, 26, and I am a grade 9 student of Rokar Buddhist School, staying at Rokar Pagoda currently.

I was born on the 9 of March, 1991 in Donteav village, Roluos commune, Bakong district, Siem Reap province, Cambodia. I have 5 siblings. I am the third child in the family. My older sister has married and she has one child.

My father’s name is Mon Thear, 54, and he is a farmer. My mother is Pheak, 52, a housewife looking after the house and the children. My parents try very hard to earn money for me. My grandparents can earn a little money to support the family but my family is poor because there is too little family income.

Every day I learn at Buddhist school; I really miss my family at times. Besides studying time, I take time to study English at Savong School Cambodia. I like English so much; I want to be an IT teacher. I feel real pity for my parents, supporting and taking care of my siblings.

Sometimes my grandparents call on my parents and me and I also feel sad for them because every day they try so hard to work for the whole family. I like chanting the dharma. I love my parents so much. I want to have a better life in the future.

Thank you Vann Salas for interviewing Chai Chun and translating.

 

 

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A school that talks with the parents.

Savong has always loved teaching.  He is a natural.

Savong has always loved teaching. He is a natural. This picture was taken in 2004.

Yesterday I had a nice long talk with Savong about progress  with the primary school and he told me something that was music to my ears. schools in Cambodia can be fairly laissez-faire when it comes to classroom attendance. What with the prevalence of illness, family dramas and seasonal needs – whereby kids are expected to help harvest the rice – classroom attendances can rise and fall quite dramatically during the course of the school year.

Well, Savong’s School has adopted a policy of  keeping a close eye on attendance, and contacting parents of those children who have not turned up. This kind of pro-activeness is virtually unheard of in Cambodia, and over time is bound to win more respect from the community.

During the conversation Savong was complaining about the amount of paperwork he has to handle. Yesterday he had representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs come and conduct a successful audit of his organisation SOC. “But brother,” he said, “I want to spend more days visiting the school and teaching.”

I have seen Savong teaching, and he is a formidable force in the classroom, with young students absolutely riveted and attentive. He employs humour, provides illustrations and stories, and  he makes eye contact with each of the students as if he is teaching only one person at a time. I dug around my computer files and found the shot, taken in 2004, posted above.

There’s a much younger Savong, engaging the students (at least one of these kids now has a University degree,) and showing his passion for the task. Those were good times, who really enjoys paperwork?

The key to education is making contact – firstly with the students, but also with the  parents.

180 young Cambodian students would love your assistance

Click here for a YouTube video I put together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifRHOz-dIbo&feature=youtu.be

Savong’s School in rural Siem Reap is extending its services to include primary school teaching for Grade 1 – 6. Here’s some background in a brief 4 minute video. Have you got some energy and skill to assist the project?

You can contact me:  Duncan Stuart – duncan@kudos-dynamics.com

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Thieves

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A couple of nights ago thieves broke into Savong’s School. They climbed the locked school gates and tried to force a few locked doors and shuttered windows, without success before managing to prise apart the bars on a window and squeezing into the computer classroom from where they stole two laptop computers.  The matter has been referred to local police but we don’t hold out too much hope for the recovery of the computers.

Unfortunately theft is extremely common in Cambodia where there are many people looking for a quick way to make money or to cover debts.

But that’s why Savong’s School has bars on the classroom windows. From one viewpoint these bars look prison-like, and I have several photos where students are sitting by the windows, holding the bars and looking out – no doubt with longing to those outside playing volleyball.

But nobody forces our students to turn up to this school. They are free to come and go.  Unfortunately, there are some thieves who feel the same way.

Time, perhaps, to hire a local to guard the school.

 

Photo of Farmhouse Interior – Kampong Kdei, November 2013

Photo of Farmhouse Interior - Kampong Kdei, November 2013

One of the families I visited in Kampong Kdei lives in very simple conditions – a house with thatch walls and roof which is very comfortable during the hot months, but how about in the wet season? The boy is sponsored through High School and if he shines there, then Savong will make sure he gets the support he needs to undertake higher education in Siem Reap. His mother misses her son (he stays at the SOC in Bakong) but told me through an interpreter that her only concern is that her son gets a good education.

Cambodia: The growth in school enrolments since 1980

When the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979, Cambodia was a mess. The school system was of course just one of the victims of the regime, so in hindsight it has been remarkable that the number of children enrolled at school in Cambodia has risen to levels as good – or better – than those of the 1960s.

Two things drive these numbers. One is the number of children, which since 1990 has burgeoned. On the population pyramid below, we can see a dent in the numbers amongst those aged 35 to 39. That reflects the greatly diminished birthrate, as well is the greatly increased child mortality rate of the Pol Pot years. But since then Cambodia has experienced one of the highest birth rates in the world, peaking around 1990, but retaining high levels since then, though with a small decrease 10 to 15 years ago. (Source: http://www.indexmundi)

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Now let’s look at the school enrolments since 1980.  If anything, the growth of these school enrolments has been faster than the growth of population. The reason for this is the investment by both the government as well as by NGOs in the building of schools, and the removal of barriers to education, particularly in rural areas that were ill served previously. I won’t get into detailed figures here, but if I take the cohort who were born 15 years ago, a greater percentage of those have been attending school than their equivalents from the cohort five or 10 years older.

Don’t be alarmed by the downturn in the chart below. The recent decrease in primary school enrolments, is population driven, reflecting (as I mentioned above,) the recent decrease in birth rates 5 to 15 years ago. However numbers are expected to pick up again, judging by the figures in the population pyramid.

The chart below (based on MOEYS figures,) shows dramatically the overall rise in school enrolments since 1980, yet it shows just as dramatically the relatively skinny percentage of those enrolments that are occurring at upper secondary school level: grades nine through to 12.

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Cambodia faces challenges at each level of the education system.

Pre-School Right now, and not betrayed the figures above, is the challenge of introducing more preschoolers into the education system. The aim of this is to give these children a head start with reading, writing and social skills.

Primary School At the primary school level, as the chart above suggests, we appear to be at a moment of reprieve, whereby the available resources can be shared out amongst fewer children than previously experienced. However the primary schools sector is in the state of crisis at present because it is losing teaching staff rapidly. The reason for this is the historically poor levels of remuneration available for teaching staff. Many teachers are switching from primary to secondary schools in order to get more liveable wage.

Secondary School At the lower and upper secondary school level, there are several problems still. While teachers are highly regarded, and are on salaries that are comparatively generous – comparatively that is – there is still a shortage of trained teachers, and a terrible shortage of resources such as textbooks, science equipment and even such basics as whiteboard markers. By world standards the Cambodian government is a poor investor in its own education system. According to UNESCO figures, (2011)13.1% of government spending goes to education – skinny slice of the small pie.

From the perspective of Savong school in Bakong, Siem Reap, we can see how we have fitted in to the broad narrative of the post 1980 story. I think it is important for NGOs to keep evaluating their own role within the wider picture. Right now, Savong is examining the role of the school which works around the local secondary schools. They operate in the mornings, and so during those same mornings Savong’s School remains empty. The plan, due to be rolled out in October this year is to utilise the teaching and physical resource of the school in order to provide local rural students primary education services. This is quite apart from the language and computer teaching that his school already provides to senior students currently in grades 6 to 12.

For more facts and figures about the Cambodian education system: