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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How qualified are the teachers of Cambodia? Ministry figures say it’s improving.

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The 2013 census conducted by MOEYS found that of all teaching staff in Cambodia (primary and secondary) one in every 8 now has a degree – a dramatic improvement over the figures from 5 or 10 years ago.

However a third of teachers have not completed High School – and this is a major challenge for the education system especially with regards to lifting the standards of Primary School teaching.

See also: A teacher shortage in rural areas. And how many students complete the voyage all the way past Grade 12? See the completion rate data. This is all sourced from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. (MOEYS)

A crisis is looming in teaching circles: a growing shortage of primary school teachers in rural areas. For more on this – click here. In fact here’s a story written in Cambodian Daily which starkly tells the story. Great piece of writing.

Librarian with a heart of gold – an awakening of a memory.

Librarian with a heart of gold - an awakening of a memory.

Sreylam is one of the quiet unsung heroes at Savong’s School, serving many years as librarian. As any school librarian knows, the job involves encouragement of new students and the creation of an environment that is conducive to the full flight of young imaginations. I cannot imagine anyone better suited to the role than Leam Sreylam: she is like a child-magnet and in her presence students open themselves up.

When I first met her I was reminded at once of a teacher of mine, when I was 5 and in Canada. Mrs Cohoe was a golden presence who made us feel so welcome in her classroom. When I was almost 40 I visited Canada once more and looked Mrs Cohoe up in the phone book. I gave her a call and her now elderly voice creaked open like a door. “Ye-e-e-e-e-s?” she asked.

“You won’t remember me but my name is Duncan….” but she chipped in and completed the sentence.
“…Duncan Stuart…why your family emigrated to New Zealand in 1961. How is your mother Margaret?”
We swapped notes and it appeared that Miss Cohoe had kept tabs with legions of students. So I asked her, “How do you keep in touch with everyone?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” she pondered, “it seems everybody keeps in touch with me.”

Sreylam is from the local community and I’m certain that even though she is very quiet and unassuming she’ll also have legions of students who grow up and forever remember her as a favourite. What a difference these wonderful individuals make in our lives.

For more about my favorite library in Cambodia – click here. And here. And about other initiatives in Cambodia – Room to Read.

Five things I love about Savong School – Cambodia

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Savong and me. Despite appearance, I always look up to Savong because of his dedication to make his dream of free education come true. More than 500 students are enrolled at his school.

 

I’ve commented elsewhere that I feel Savong’s School has never been in better shape. Far from being the fragile NGO that it was in 2005, with everyone learning their way: today it is a place that has stuck to its dreams but offers a lot more than any of us imagined 8 years ago. Here are 5 things I love about the school.

1) The objectives have never changed in 8 years. Back before it was built, Savong dreamed of a school that serve rural students, would be free, would provide language and other skills that would help these students reach their employment potential. Savong has never lost that vision though in that time we have added computer education as well as support for top students to proceed to university. The dream remains the same.

2) The students are enthusiastic and hard working. Most already attend the local Bakong High School which is itself improving year by year. Yet here they are, voluntarily attending additional school because they want to.

3) The staff are positive, skilled and up-skilling themselves.

4) The top students get further support. Top students get a full scholarship that support them through the 4 years (or more) that they need to complete intermediate year followed by a three year Bachelors degree. Our sights are rising higher and higher and these students are making the most of their amazing opportunity.

5) The social interaction at the school is very positive. It starts at the top with the rapport between teachers, but it goes further: in the way that scholarships students give something back to the school – and acting as mentors for younger students. It shows in the way that students congregate before and after class – enjoying the school as a supportive place within their community.

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This teacher emphasises the quality of teaching

This teacher emphasises the quality of teaching

Sovannarith has been one of the teachers at Savong’s School since it opened in September 2005 and he has always been distinguished by his professionalism and dedication. These days he still teaches, but his role has also put him in new territory: training and developing the other teachers. Each week he runs a session for staff and two weeks ago I ran one with him on the use of questions in the classroom – a lesson that I myself was taught at Auckland Teacher’s College back in 1977. NGOs in Cambodia are sometimes criticised for measuring activities (number of injections administered) rather than outcomes (reduction in disease) so it is a mark of real maturity at the school that here the focus is not simply on more teachers, but on the quality of the teaching and how to improve it. This is one sign that made me feel, personally, that Savong’s School has never been in better shape. It was a delight to see Sovannarith once more.

A most satisfactory visit with Savong.

A few weeks back I admitted to being somewhat apprehensive about this year’s visit to Cambodia. My last journey had not gone particularly well, and the agenda for this year – a set of business meetings to help get better systems and steer the growth of Savong’s NGO appeared to me to be fraught with risk. Put bluntly, I’m expecting Savong – who started the project 9 years ago with no more than a high school education – to adopt a full western-style operating system in order that donors and sponsors can satisfy our own authorities – inland revenue departments for example – about the validity of our gifting.  We live in compliance-driven economies, with huge office towers of graduates devoted to accurate book-keeping. It’s our business culture. How quickly can we ask Cambodian organisations to ramp-up?

Well this journey I’m filled with optimism. For a start, I’ve never seen the school better organised. A couple of original staff members have moved on this last year, but with their replacements has come fresh energy and commitment. Sovannarith, one of the first teachers and widely accepted as the most professional and well trained, is now the senior teacher and in charge of upskilling the others.

Exams are well organised, authorised by the Ministry of Education (a move established some years ago by good supporter Colm Power from Ireland) and close attention is paid to who has passed and who needs to try again. When I visited results were just being posted, and students were flocking, excitedly, to see whether they had passed or missed out. Most of those who missed out had only attended language or computer classes for a few months – so (at least the ones I spoke with) were keen to enrol again for another shot.

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The photo here of Savong’s School was taken on a holiday, so it looks rather empty, but teachers are expecting at least 500 enrolments this new year.

An excellent part of the story at this school is the work put in by scholarship winning students who, after studying at University in the mornings, come back to the school in order to teach or conduct admin duties. They give something back, and they act as mentors for the existing high school students. I’d recommend the practice to any other school.  The enthusiasm of these scholarship winners is palpable (there are more than a dozen – soon to be joined by at least half a dozen more.) The first wave of these scholars will complete their Bachelors degrees a year from now.

When I asked Savong whether his objectives had changed over time he restated the same dream he outlined to me in 2004 exactly nine years earlier: to proved free education in order that poor students can reach their potential.

Along these lines we explored the development of the scholarship idea – assisting students not just through post-high-school university support, but through other career guidance pathways as well. This has been something I’ve been mulling over and was raised also by Amir and Dilshad, the supporters who bankrolled the school library. I met them while on this journey and we visited the library together  – it is a mutli-purpose building with offices, library, computer class-room and meeting/room (come classroom) and to my mind the heart of the school. Amir and Dilshad suggested that a career-guidance focus might be extremely useful not only through sending great students through university, but to support through sponsorship, expertise, good connections – students who wish to train in other vocations. A big part of that is the need to to simply open the eyes of our students to the vast array of career possibilities by bringing in guest speakers, to talk with our rural students and explain what their jobs entail, and how to go about training for that job.

A few years ago almost every student I met wanted to be a “tour guide.”  That made sense in tourist driven Siem Reap. This time when I asked students I found a couple who wished to be engineers, a number who wish to manage their own businesses, and a few who would like to be in a trade – such as electrician or mechanic.

That was the career choice of young Buntheourn whom supporters have sponsored since 2008. (Below)

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He is now almost fully trained as a mechanic, and a year from now will be capable of earning something like $300 a month – unheard of money compared to his parents who struggled on something like $40 per month to support their son. His is one of those great leaps forward we can help local students achieve. Buntheourn is as delightful as ever, by the way, now a young man and completely at ease his profession.

Savong and I had much to talk about. Goals and objectives. Measuring KPIs. Budgeting (12 monthly rather than ad-hoc monthly forecasting) and the need to sharpen up the volunteer experience. A charge will now be imposed for this experience,  to filter out those who rock-up, interrupt the students and all they do is take photos for Facebook without even making a token donation. NGOs in Cambodia are getting mighty wary of these gap-year Facebook volunteers.

However good volunteers are still a necessary part of the story. They help bring expertise, knowledge, encouragement and yes – financial or business resources (good contacts) to the project. As Savong told me at the end of one meeting: “I fully realise how important our supporters are.”

What I found was a school in good heart, and functioning well: a school that is delivering on its objectives.  I’ll discuss in another post the work at the children’s home. Systems-wise it is still a couple of notches behind the school, but making great progress. A day trip with 6 new students to visit their parents 40kms away proved one of the richest experiences I’ve had in my 58 years. Stay posted.