West of Derm Kor Market in the heart of Boeung Salang commune in Toul Kork district sits Boeung Salang Primary, a modest public school offering education from kindergarten upwards for the kids of the community.
Covering just two hectares, the compound consists of four classrooms and a building housing the administration office, hall and library. At the heart of the institution is a small vegetable patch and playground boasting a flagpole, around which the children regularly gather to sing the national anthem.
The school is a typical example of the Child Friendly School program that seeks to bring consistency and harmony to all schools in the Kingdom regardless of their location and means.
“We have several classes operating under the program and are trying hard to get them all granted Child Friendly status,” said Leang Hai keo, Deputy Director of the school.
Boeng Salang accommodates some 1,718 students – including 815 girls – and when The Phnom Penh Post visited a class recently, the pupils stood as one, chanting “greetings, uncle”, before taking their seats and continuing with their lesson.
A young girl stood up to read aloud from a book, her fellow pupils paying rapt attention. After a while, the teacher got one of the other students to take over the reading.
Yim Chamroeun, the Director of Boeung Salang Primary School, said adhering to the Child Friendly program had brought a lot of change.
“The current primary school program has been developed a lot and most of the teaching methods have been altered,” said Yim.
“For example our teaching now requires students to do a range of activities and a lot more research and practical work.”
The classroom is bright and clean. Two big windows offer ventilation as well as a view of some banana trees, while the walls are covered with artwork by the students as well as posters featuring the Khmer alphabet, multiplication tables and a first-aid kit.
The teacher’s desk stands at the front, before photos of the king, his mother and father and a poster featuring the words “Kingdom of Cambodia: Nation, Religion, King.”
“This year the Ministry of Education has upgraded our education program to synchronize with other countries in Asean to offer more amenities to our pupils so that they can develop,” said Yim.
“The ministry has created a new English textbook for primary level and integrated English classes into the weekly study schedule as well. We now have three hours of English classes in our weekly schedule.”
Chamroeun said the past two or three years had seen a genuine change in mindset regarding education, “Parents, guardians and the pupils themselves have turned to valuing education, and the teachers have earned their respect,” he said.
“Now pupils are trying hard to study at every level instead of waiting until their final year to do all the work.”