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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Literacy project for hill-tribe kids

Literacy project for hill-tribe kids


A Kreung woman and her baby who may benefit from the push into bilingual education.

CARE International has received funding for a three-year pilot project to teach literacy

to ethnic minority children in Ratanakkiri. Improving access to education in the

province is vital: only 20 percent of children attend primary school, compared with

a national average of almost three-quarters.

Jan Noorlander, project manager for CARE's Highland Children's Community Schools

Project, said children would learn literacy in their indigenous language using the

Khmer alphabet. They will learn Khmer orally, and eventually be able to read and

write the country's official language.

CARE consultant Sue Gollifer was involved in the initial stage of the project. She

said if it proved successful, the Ministry of Education (MoE) might adopt it.

"Children learn better in their mother tongue," said Gollifer. "But

in the state system, teachers know only Khmer." An independent study completed

in 2000 found that most children in the province were unable to understand Khmer.

The director of the MoE's Primary and Pre-School Department, Sieng Sorvathana, said

the ministry was cooperating with CARE on the project. She said low salaries meant

state teachers could not afford to travel to remote areas.

"[That means that] for a long time there have been no primary schools in remote

areas for minority children." She said that the MoE planned to construct a policy

for educating minority children once the pilot project had finished.

Gollifer said the project would recruit teachers from local villages, and the communities

themselves would own the schools. One priority was to attract more women teachers,

as the number of girls attending primary schools in Ratanakkiri was particularly


"One of the barriers to girls' education is that schools are far away,"

she said. "Also girls [traditionally] marry quite young. By developing a community

school we can get them in immediately by the age of six, so it will give more opportunities

for girls than the current system."

Noorlander said the project would use the three core subjects of the national curriculum:

language, mathematics and cultural studies. These would be adapted to a bilingual

format. The main aim was to equip children in three years with a level of Khmer literacy

sufficient for them to start fourth grade at a state school.

The project relies heavily on work already done by International Cooperation for

Cambodia (ICC), an NGO which has been working in Ratanakkiri since 1994.

ICC's educational project RIDE has adapted the Khmer alphabet for four indigenous

languages - Kreung, Tampuan and Brao/Kavet. The minority languages, being oral, have

no written form. Work on an orthography for Jarai began this year.

RIDE program manager Kila Reimer said once ICC had adapted the alphabet, it created

text books in indigenous languages for adult literacy classes. That was specifically

designed as a bridge to Khmer literacy. The books were based on topics the villagers

selected, including agriculture, hygiene and Khmer culture.

"If the content is in your own language, it's much easier," said Reimer.

"You learn much more quickly, and in three years you can read and write two

languages, not just one."

CARE has yet to decide where schools will be or which ethnic languages would be targeted.

The first six months of this year would involve consulting with stakeholders including

the MoE, local villagers, and NGOs in the province. They would decide which sites

were most suitable.

"When we target an area we want the community to understand very well what they

are getting into," said Noorlander. "We require a high level of commitment

from them. For example the community has to provide the school [building]."

He explained that if the village could not afford essential building materials, CARE

would provide them. However, the villagers would be expected to provide labor and

organize the construction. CARE is currently recruiting project officers who will

liaise with the communities to develop the curriculum and a teacher training program.

Funding for the project, which will cost $465,000, has been provided by the Australian

government's development arm AusAID.



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