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People attend the launch of a project in Phnom Penh yesterday aimed at providing early childhood education to young children in 137 floating villages.
People attend the launch of a project in Phnom Penh yesterday aimed at providing early childhood education to young children in 137 floating villages. Heng Chivoan

New education aid announced for floating villages

More than 13,000 vulnerable children in 137 floating villages along the Tonle Sap river and Tonle Sap lake in Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces will have access to early childhood education under a $2.7 million project announced yesterday.

Beginning mid-2017, children 5 and younger will have access to services that currently don’t exist in their communities, which stretch across nine districts, said Out Sarang, education program manager with Save the Children in Cambodia.

“The communities that were selected do not yet have any community-based or government pre-schools,” Sarang said, adding that it was due to the remoteness of the area.

The new endeavour is being funded by the Japan Social Development Fund through the World Bank, and was coordinated by Save the Children in Cambodia, the Ministry of Education and other partners.

During the 2015-16 school year, the coverage of early childhood education in the Kingdom stood at 64.7 percent, compared to 61.4 percent in 2014-15. However, only 11 percent of children in rural and remote areas have access to such service, said Elizabeth Pearce, country director for Save the Children in Cambodia.

It’s the country’s goal to have 100 percent coverage of early childhood education by 2030, according to Ministry of Education Secretary of State Kim Sethany.

Sum Sopheak, chief of early childhood education in Kampong Chhnang, said this program will help improve the lives of children. “Children will be exposed to an education environment at a stage where they can develop and grow,” she said.

Though floating villages are often inhabited by ethnic Vietnamese fishermen who can face barriers to accessing government services, only a few of the targeted communities in this project are ethnically Vietnamese, Sarang said.

However, access to early education in such communities is even lower than the national average. A 2014 investigation by the Minority Rights Organization found that only 9 percent of ethnic Vietnamese children in communities of almost 5,000 in Kampong Chhnang went to school. The main barrier was that they had to submit a birth certificate to enrol.

Children in the targeted areas who meet the age requirement will be eligible for the benefits, even if they don’t have a birth certificate or regardless of background, political or religious views.

“We are working for the best interest of the children,” Sarang added.

Eang Vuthy, executive director of Equitable Cambodia, said it was a good program, but his concern was its sustainability.

“I see many programs come in and out,” he said. “They need to have a long-term plan.”

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