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Funding plan targets failing schools

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090108_7.jpg

A US$25-million partnership between Belgium and Cambodia is funding refurbishments and teacher training at 200 schools across the Kingdom, with 50 school targeted in Siem Reap

Photo by: DIETER TELEMANS

Students attend class at a Siem Reap school.

IN conjunction with the government's goal of ensuring that by 2015 all school-aged children are receiving an education, Belgium and Cambodia have pooled almost US$25 million in funding and expertise to improve facilities and train teachers at more than 200 primary and secondary schools in Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey and Kampong Cham provinces.

 

The Basic Education and Teacher Training (BETT) program in Siem Reap is using funding from Belgium and Cambodia's Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to refurbish facilities and strengthen the administration and teaching of area schools.

The program is now in its sixth year, and the school construction phase has largely been completed, with 47 of 50 targeted schools finished in Siem Reap.

In some of them, construction involved building more classrooms. Others - no bigger than a shed - needed to be completely rebuilt, said Gert Janssens, BETT's Belgian co-director. 

The program is now focussing on training teachers to effectively convey information and actively engage students.  

"The biggest shock we found was that pupils were not really learning anything at school," said Janssens. 

THE BIGGEST SHOCK WE FOUND WAS THAT PUPILS WERE NOT REALLY LEARNING ANYTHING.…

"Each day, teachers would copy the textbook onto the blackboard, and students would copy that into their notebooks.  But no one checked the actual learning, which was quite weak," Janssens said.

Results pending

Although BETT was initially slated to finish in 2006, two more years were added because desired results had not been achieved.

"Lasting changes in education take eight to 10 years to achieve. We are lucky to work for seven years in the targeted schools, but quality improvement activities [teacher training] take time to settle in," said Janssens.

The teacher-training phase will last until December 2010, when Janssens said the real impact of the program can be judged.

"Once the program is fully implemented, we can see the real results.  Now, we can only hope and periodically check on the schools," he said.

Strong govt support  

According to Janssens, BETT's biggest achievement is that "all activities are implemented by the Provincial Education Service and the District Education Service". 

"There is a strong involvement and commitment from the education authorities at all levels.  A team of local trainers is delivering the training through a modular system and is also providing in-school support to teachers to facilitate the transfer from the training to the classroom," Janssens said.

Budget concerns

To complete its project, BETT budgeted for a contribution of $18.5 million from Belgium and $5.9 million from Cambodia.  

The project is still working with that money, "although strong price increases and changes in exchange rate have tightened our budget", said Janssens. 

"Some construction plans had to be dropped to respect the budget ceilings."

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