RESULTS UK recently led a cross-party parliamentary delegation to Cambodia. This is the second post as part of a series looking back at key steps Cambodia is taking to improve the health and education of its population. Reg Davis, a RESULTS volunteer and grassroots member of the RESULTS Board of Trustees, joined the delegation and reflects on back on our visit to the Ang Soeung Primary School, which received a school improvement grant from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The UK is one of the largest donors to the GPE, which provides funding to 59 of the world’s poorest countries to increase the number of children receiving quality basic education.
We had a very early start as we left our hotel in Phnom Penh for our journey to Takeo Province – approximately 45 miles along a mixture of made and unmade roads.
It was another warm day with blue skies and the prospect of hot conditions by mid-morning.
The journey took us to the Ang Soeung Primary School in the Bati District of the province. We were accompanied by Cambodian education officials, including the District Director for Education and Lynn Dudley – Lynn now works for the Cambodian Ministry of Education but came to the country in the late 1990s as a volunteer with VSO. She has fallen in love with Cambodia and exudes a passion for improving the educational opportunities for its children.
Lynn told us of the considerable progress Cambodia has made since the destruction of all schools under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime thirty years ago. But despite progress, it is clear that there is still much to do. Lynn emphasised that the school we were visiting was not the most successful or well-equipped school, but it has made good progress following receipt of funds from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
Arriving at Ang Soeung Primary School we were welcomed by about 50 children in two lines on either side of the school entrance drive. As we entered the drive, the children applauded us all the way to the school buildings.
The school consists of an administration block on one side of a rectangular layout, with classroom blocks on the other three sides. The classrooms were all of similar design, but one side had a newer block of classrooms which were built following receipt of GPE funding. Outside each classroom block there were many bicycles: the favoured means of transport for the children.
We were first directed to the administration block and entered a room with a large table and chairs in the centre where we joined by the Government officials and the Headteacher. The District Director greeted us and gave a brief description of the education provision in Cambodia and then the Headteacher gave some facts about his school.
Following the introductory session we were encouraged to visit the classrooms and see some of the lessons. I started by visiting a grade 1 class which consisted of about 35 children. Some, but not all, had worksheets for a basic mathematics lesson.
I then crossed the quadrangle (a dusty grass area between the buildings) and entered the new block. The first room had about 12 pre-school pupils. The furniture was new and the children had writing boards with felt pens. Here pupils practiced their writing by copying a letter and then showing the board to the teacher. The children were a little shy and understandably uncertain if they should show their work to these strange people speaking a different language.
My final visit was to a Grade 6 class of about 35 students with the boys sitting on one side of the room and the girls sitting in two rows of desks on the other side. The students in Grade 6 were engaged in a study of equivalent fractions and each had an exercise book. The students were attentive and enjoying the class. This class had a male teacher, but I noticed the other classes I visited had female teachers.
Each classroom I entered had bright posters, maps and pictures on the walls but displayed little or none of the children’s work. The thing that struck me most was the total lack of books. There were no reference or reading books. There was a mixture of materials for the children to record their work ranging from slate boards and chalk to writing boards with felt pens and exercise books and worksheets in the higher grade classes.
During the break the children played in the central quadrangle, and it was clear that children are the same everywhere. They had their friends and played their chosen games. It must have been strange when this aged visitor from afar joined them for skipping practice but they seemed happy to indulge me and soon surpassed my poor efforts.
After our tour we returned to the administration unit and were able to ask questions and seek clarification of points. We explored the access for disabled children. At present they have a child with hearing difficulties but no other physically impaired children, although we were told the school is totally inclusive and could support any children.
All in all, the visit was a wonderful experience. I want to repeat my comment above that children are the same everywhere, and the children of Cambodia deserve every opportunity for a full, quality education. This school seems to be providing a good education subject to the limitations that exist. They certainly need more materials for the children – more pens, pencils, paper etc. Perhaps the most important concern is the lack of books. Hopefully the building of a new library will fill the gap, but books in the classrooms are also essential.
It was impossible to judge the quality of the teaching in our short visit, but there is a determination to improve teacher training and employ more qualified teachers.
The Global Partnership for Education has certainly improved the chances for the children of Ang Soeung Primary School and I am sure for the pupils of many other schools in Cambodia. As a RESULTS grassroots activist, it was brilliant to see the benefits of GPE funding for the children we met. This year RESULTS will be supporting the replenishment of funds for the Global Partnership, and I for one will be in the vanguard urging the UK Government to continue its magnificent financial support for the GPE.