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Civil society filling need for pre-schools in rural areas, but state catching up

A teacher helps one or her young students. Photo supplied
A teacher helps one or her young students. Photo supplied

Civil society filling need for pre-schools in rural areas, but state catching up

For years NGOs and commune councils have been providing pre-school and kindergarten education to young children in impoverished rural areas. A government move to incorporate these community-based schools could make them more sustainable.

NGOs in Cambodia are filling a gap by supporting community-based pre-schools and kindergartens that enable thousands of children to attain an early childhood education that they would nototherwise have access to, especially in rural areas.

Jan Jaap Kleinrensink, country director for Plan International, said his organisation is currently financially supporting and helping manage community-based pre-schools that provide an education to more than 13,000 children under the age of six in four provinces: Siem Reap, Tboung Khmum, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng. More than 400 volunteer pre-school teachers have been trained and have been provided coaching and training by Plan International, in cooperation with education officials, to ensure that they are able to properly teach and manage their classrooms, he added.

“Plan does not only provide the pre-school service, but also provides parents and caregivers education [to provide] better care [and to] educate their children on a daily basis,” he said. “Our focus is in the northeastern part of Cambodia where children, especially those marginalised and vulnerable, do not have access to such services.”

Jill Reimer, technical lead for Education and Life Skills at World Vision Cambodia, said the NGO supports 89 community pre-schools in six provinces: Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Chhnang, PreahVihear, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom and Takeo. Around 2,100 children receive an early childhood education through these community-based pre-schools. World Vision provides $626,566 a year to the 89 schools sites, which includes some assistance for infrastructure improvements. The NGO also provides assistance in the form of community engagement, capacity building and coaching for teachers, as well as system strengthening support for the 89 school sites.

“This includes some support for infrastructural improvement, but not full construction of buildings,” Reimer said.

NGOs are providing support to areas long neglected by the state, which allocated just $671 million, or 3 percent of GDP, to education in 2017, with most of the funding directed to schools in urban areas.

The government appears to be making efforts, however, boosting education funding by 24 percent this year and revealing plans to incorporate an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 community-based pre-schools and kindergartens – currently run by commune councils with support from NGOs – into the state public school system to ensure their sustainability.

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One of the classrooms provided by an NGO. Photo supplied

A sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 29 and approved by the Ministry of Education on January 3 requires community-based pre-schools and kindergartens to meet minimum standards before they are incorporated under the ministry. The sub-decree is designed to improve the quality, efficiency and sustainability of community-based institutions.

“World Vision Cambodia sees the integration of [community-based pre-schools] into the public school system as positive,” Reimer said. “The children of Cambodia are, literally, its future.”

Plan International also supports the ministry’s move.

Jaap Kleinrensink said the transformation will make the community-based pre-schools more sustainable and lead to the establishment of more pre-schools. Teachers will also be better trained and equipped with enough teaching and learning materials to operate their classes, he added.

Chin Chanveasna, executive director of the NGO Education Partnership, earlier this month said the Ministry of Education plans to incorporate around 600, or about 20 percent, of the existing community-based pre-schools and kindergartens this year, and will look to increase the number it incorporates each year going forward.

Funding fluctuations for NGOs can sometimes affect the sustainability of the community-based kindergartens they support, and commune councils may struggle with limited resources, Chanveasna said.

“Even right now, there are some commune councils that have not prioritised education,” he told The Post earlier this month.

During the 2015-16 school year, the coverage of early childhood education in Cambodia stood at 64.7 percent. However, only 11 percent of children in rural and remote areas have access to such services.

The Ministry of Education plans to reach a goal of having 100 percent enrolment of children aged 5 by 2030, Chanveasna said. It hopes to hit a similar goal for those aged 3 and 4 at a later date.

Romam Sokhon, Soeung commune chief in Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district, earlier this month said his commune has four community-based kindergartens, three of which are run by the commune and one is managed by Plan International.

Sokhon said he has heard that after the community-based kindergartens are incorporated into the public school system, teachers’ salaries will see a bump, which he said was positive as it would help improve the quality of education.

“For a month, we spend 300,000 riel [about $75] for the salaries of teachers,” he said. “But I’ve heard that [this year], they will spend 600,000 riel.”

Chanveansa said the ministry had yet to reveal a budget for the incorporation of the 600 schools this year, and there was no clear time frame to complete the transition. He added the community-based institutions would likely need to “increase capacity” in order for the ministry to incorporate them.

Ministry of Education spokesman Ros Salin did not respond to a request for comment last week.

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