Yesterday members of our VSO team in Banan, Cambodia went to teach at a school near Crocodile Mountain in an area of limited means in our commune. This was to help with the Tompeang Russey Khmer Association (see more about their work here), who have been doing extra-curricular classes at both the school and at the library above their office. Since they rely on volunteer teachers, the frequency of classes can be unreliable, so we were happy to assist them on a day where there were no teachers available.
The school under Crocodile Mountain is very small and basic, consisting of two buildings: a classroom and the colourfully decorated community library that the TRK Association had built in one of their community outreach projects. About twelve children aged five to twelve were shyly waiting for us and when we started our lesson we immediately realised their grasp of English varied dramatically. Although most children could recite the alphabet and numbers from one to ten, the younger children struggled to write in both English and Khmer. However, despite their limited knowledge, all of the children were extremely enthusiastic and committed to learning. We taught them basic introductions with the aim to split up the group in our next session.
A second group of volunteers put on a lesson for high school students in the library above TRK’s office. Their English was much more advanced, and one of our colleagues Soramony Suong revealed a hidden talent in teaching as she lead the class through vocabulary, spelling games and an end-of-lesson quiz.
Education in Cambodia differs in quality due to a variety of factors. The cities, such as Phnom Penh, Siem Riep and Battambang, benefit from better education due to more highly trained professionals in these areas, particularly in regards to teaching English. Since fluency in the English language is often required to get University scholarships and better paid jobs, people growing up in the rural areas of Cambodia are immediately at a disadvantage for their future. Children can attend private schools in order to improve their education, but at 100 dollars a month this is obviously not an option for a lot of families.
For people in rural Cambodia, there is little incentive to stay in school. Some children will drop out of school in order to help their families with their businesses, or to work in factories to send money back home. Their parents encourage this: often they think in the short-term, and do not consider or plan for the long-term future of their children or see the real benefits of education. Young people can be discouraged from going to University, since without connections within the profession they are training for it is very difficult to get a job. This is particularly bad for girls and women, since the common attitude is that soon they will marry, and will therefore have little need for higher education.
Despite this, however, there is a fairly equal number of men and women taking University degrees. Although the older generation can have some short-sightedness (which obviously is not shared by a lot of people in Cambodia, mainly the very poor) this is an old-fashioned attitude which is slowly changing. Through meeting people, such as successful graduates, people in the community have begun to understand the benefits of higher education and are taking it more seriously.
Hopefully the students of Crocodile Mountain will overcome the obstacles before them with some support from TRK and their relentless enthusiasm to learn!
Photo credits: Julia Herritty (3rd picture), Dy Polin (4th and 5th picture).