For youths with hearing or vision handicaps, obtaining a formal education can be a struggle
Getting a solid education is difficult enough for the nation’s most gifted students, but for those with seeing or hearing difficulties, the prospect can be daunting.
Cambodia boasts schools for different ages, genders, ethnicities and economic classes. Unfortunately, however, not every child in the country has the opportunity to receive an education, and finding a school can be especially difficult for the handicapped.
What opportunities do children with vision or hearing disabilities have?
Until recently, such individuals had almost no hope of receiving a formal education. Handicapped Cambodians were forced to live isolated from society. Only a handful of those with milder disabilities were accepted at mainstream schools.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport set up a special education office in the Primary Education Department in 2000. The inclusive education project (IE) was implemented in Svay Reng province by this office in collaboration with Disability Action Council (DAC) and UNICEF for children with disabilities.
The IE approach seeks to meet the learning and schooling needs of every child and does not exclude any child because of any special abilities or needs.
Today, spread across 12 provinces, there are 42 classes for deaf and for blind children. These classes are integrated with schools for children suffering other disabilities, of which there are 90 in total, located in 15 different provinces.
In 1994, the Krousar Thmey organisation created the first school for blind children.
Krousar Thmey is a non-religious and apolitical NGO that was created in 1991 in a refugee camp on the Thai border and started work in Cambodia soon after. Krousar Thmey has been training government teachers in sign language and braille to teach in integrated classes for deaf and blind pupils.
The national educational curriculum is customised for those enrolled in Krousar Thmey’s educational programmes, which have been described as the only ones to offer education in accordance with the national curriculum that has been adapted for students with disabilities.
The institution has been developing tools, such as Khmer books written in braille, to allow children to have access to education. Also, a Khmer sign language has been created based on American Sign Language.
Earlier this year, two deaf students graduated from high school, marking a milestone for Cambodia’s severely hearing-impaired.
Julien Strens, communication officer at Krousar Thmey says: “As children are getting older and graduating, there is a need of developing vocational training for them. Thanks to partnerships with other NGOs, the children can attend vocational training in various fields, such as cooking, sewing, welding and computer skills.
“This programme is still to be strengthened. It will help them become autonomous and responsible adults.”
Unfortunately, many people lack awareness of the needs of the blind and deaf, activists say.
Without job training, it can be exceptionally difficult for these children to secure good jobs, earn money for themselves, be independent of their families or support families of their own. Education plays a critical role in empowering the blind and deaf to surmount society’s challenges.
Advocacy campaigns have been developed by Krousar Thmey since 2005 to face this matter.
During school holidays, some blind and deaf children tour around the provinces to perform. The theatre scenes represent the obstacles that handicapped people have to face in every day life. In weekly bulletins, news on television is broadcasted in sign language.
Much remains to be done in many developing countries like Cambodia, but it is often difficult to educate people about the marginalisation of those with hearing and vision handicaps when so many others, marginalised by economic or other factors, are struggling to take care of their own families.
However, there are many indications that progress is taking place.
With the support of NGOs and charities, there is evidence of growing awareness of the needs of the blind and deaf for special assistance or amenities. Educating Cambodians about those special needs offers the promise of opportunities for these young learners.