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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Non-citizens' daily struggle to provide schooling for kids

Non-citizens' daily struggle to provide schooling for kids


Like Cambodian nationals living in Vietnam, Vietnamese families living in the Kingdom without citizenship papers have to find alternatives to state schools

They have to show up with the immigration documents to the school so that the school can calculate their terms and qualifications.

ON the far banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, communities of Vietnamese live in boats and shacks, eking out a living.

And as with other poor communities across Cambodia, their families struggle to provide their children with food, shelter - and that most crucial of commodities, a good education.

But more often than not, kids who should be in a classroom learning the skills they need to make their way in the world are instead labouring to help their families make ends meet.

To make things even more difficult, those residents who do not have citizenship papers cannot pursue further education in Cambodian state schools.

This is despite the fact these children may be born and raised in Cambodia.

And the situation is reciprocated for Khmer people who live in Vietnam without immigration papers or citizenship rights.
Pok Thavin, director general of the higher education department at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports told the Post Wednesday that state schools in Cambodia will not allow "illegal immigrants" to study.

But since its inception in 2005, the Queen of Peace church in Arey Ksat village, about two kilometres from Phnom Penh on the far side of the Mekong River, has been providing Vietnamese and Khmer language lessons to Vietnamese children living in that community.

Despite the fact that the church and its school are funded by the Catholic villagers and Catholic communities overseas, the school welcomes Vietnamese children regardless of their religious backgrounds.

For volunteer school teacher Le Nguyen Dung Hanh, it's a long day with little reward.

The teachers at the school work on a voluntary basis and are provided with food and shelter by the community.

Le Nguyen Dung Hanh said she taught Vietnamese reading and writing skills to about 100 children, from grades one through four, from 109 families in the village.

"Some are Christian, but some are Buddhist," she said.

"There are about 50 students here in the afternoon, and around 50 here in the morning, as well as a class of about 30 from 5 to 8 in the evening," she said.

Le Nguyen Dung Hanh, who came from Ho Chi Minh City less than a week ago, said the students' families paid 5000 riel per month for the lessons.

However, for students with poor circumstances, the school fees were sometimes waived.

But since students have to go to Khmer-speaking schools to pursue education beyond grade four, Khmer language skills are also emphasised along with the Vietnamese lessons.

"This is to help integrating Vietnamese children into Cambodian society at large," said a resident, who said he did not wish to be named.

However, according to the same source, it was very hard for Vietnamese students to pursue high school or even to complete middle school.

This is because most didn't have Cambodian household cards or citizenships, he said.

Even those who were born and bred in Cambodia held only Vietnamese nationality, he said, which made it harder for them to seek public services in the Kingdom.

Pok Thavin said any foreign nationals living in Cambodia who intended to study at a state school were required to show the documents of their living address, as well as proof of the period they had lived in Cambodia.

"They have to show up with the immigration documents to the school so that the school can calculate their terms and qualifications," Pok Thavin said.

"If they live here temporarily, they are also able to study in Cambodia, then take the results of their study here to continue in their country," he said.

"But they must also have proof with proper documents of their living in Cambodia.
"If they provide all required documents we will not ignore them."

At the moment, the biggest challenge for the school in the small village of Arey Ksat is the lack of human resources.
It is difficult to meet the community's demand with only two permanent teachers, both of whom are currently visiting home in Vietnam for a month.

So despite the fact that the school will be open throughout the summer, students will only have access to Khmer language lessons.

For Vietnamese lessons, the school uses textbooks imported or donated from Vietnam. The curriculum is aligned with the Vietnamese Ministry of Education standards.

Similarly, Khmer-language lessons are based on the same textbooks Khmer students use in public schools.

According to residents at the community, language education has been consistent since the Vietnamese government initiated Vietnamese-language classes in the early 1990s.

Later in the decade, though the government stopped formal support and funding, the Catholic community in the village still strived to maintain the classes at community houses up until the Queen of Peace church was built.

Meanwhile the Vietnamese children, like their fellow Cambodians, struggle to fit in their education between working and finding the time to play that every child needs.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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