Kimseang spent much of his childhood enduring harassment and verbal abuse, with teachers and other children dismissing him because of a visual and physical impairment.
“They called me Mr Blind or Mr Stupid. They looked down on me,” the 14-year-old said during the start of a two-day National Forum on Inclusive Education in the capital yesterday.
Kimseang is luckier than most young, disabled Cambodians; a local NGO got in contact with his parents and persuaded him to attend a school where he could learn Braille.
While the kingdom has seen overall access to education improve from a 69 per cent net enrollment rate in 1991 to almost 99 per cent last year, children with disabilities are still too often overlooked, educators at yesterday’s forum said.
“The traditional education system sees children with special needs as a problem … rather than seeing that all children have capacities and abilities,” Sandrine Bouille, project coordinator at Handicap International, said. “Schools are afraid to accept students with disabilities that they think they won’t know how to teach, and parents are afraid their child will be discriminated against and won’t learn.”
Cambodia has very few public schools equipped for students with special needs, and few private alternatives exist.
“The government is not doing enough yet. They’re trying to do more, but you can see even from the finances that NGOs are doing most of the work and the funding,” Phorn Paul, assistant to the executive director at rights group CDMD, said.
NGOs and development partners provided 69 per cent of the Ministry of Education’s 2013 primary school budget, less than one per cent of which was allocated for special needs education, statistics presented by the ministry show.
No one knows what percentage of disabled Cambodian children are being reached by the funding and capacity that does exist.
“It’s difficult to address a problem without a picture of the extent of it,” said Herve Roqueplan, director of Krousar Thmey, an NGO that runs five schools for deaf and visually impaired students.