As Cambodia’s primary schools opened their classroom doors nationwide from 1 November, The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children has been working behind the scenes for the past eight consecutive months of school closures to ensure the continuation of learning and a smooth transition back to school.
A memorandum of understanding signed by The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and Qatar Fund for Development in November 2020 committed more than $13 million to support out of school children across Cambodia. At the heart of this commitment is The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children, a four-year consortium project comprising approximately 30 local and international nonprofit organisations led by Aide et Action in partnership with Educate a Child, a global programme of theEducation Above All Foundation, which brings a further approximately $21 million to ensuring equitable access to quality education for Cambodia’s most marginalised children.
While Cambodia has dedicated considerable resources to improving access to quality education, there is still a sizable population of children who cannot access school: children living in poverty, ethnic minority children, children from geographically remote areas, children with disabilities, over-age children and young girls who face a unique set of gender-based challenges. For the 2020/21 school year, The Ministry of Youth Education and Sports Public Education Statistics & Indicators found the net enrollment of children aged 6-11 in primary school stood at 86.7%, indicating that over 13% of primary school-age children were not enrolled in school.
Through initiatives such as offering in-kind school support to marginalised girls and boys, developing supporting an accelerated learning program or equivalency program for over-age learners, supporting the integration of children with disabilities into public schools, and the development of the “Khmer Rean Arn” (Khmer Learning) and Khmer Library applications – free mobile applications with reading and learning content for Cambodian children – The Cambodian Consortium has been addressing barriers which exclude children from education.
Doubling down on its efforts to ensure the continuity of education during school closures, The Consortium has now distributed over 4,000 radios to ethnic minority students in Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and Kratie provinces, where learning content was broadcasted in minority languages on local radio. To better equip teachers, parents and children to adapt to distance learning methods, The Consortium also developed a repository of online resources accessible and free to all. To date, 43 pieces of teacher training content and 2,344 book titles including 572 audiobooks have been developed.
According to The Ministry of Youth Education and Sports Public Education Statistics & Indicators 2020/21, over 60% of the country’s primary schools are without access to water and over 25% without access to latrines. To support safe reopening, The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children will refurbish classrooms in dozens of schools across the country and invest in new teaching and learning materials, handwashing stations and water filters in the early stages of school re-opening. To recover the learning losses during the school closures, the Consortium will support catch-up classes to struggling students to help prevent drop outs, and carry out life skills courses to strengthen social and emotional connections. The Consortium will also support the setup of a database tracking system to identify students at risk of dropping out of primary school.
Speaking of the announcement of primary schools reopening, Dr. Mary Joy Pigozzi, Executive Director of Educate A Child said “We are thrilled by this positive development in the lives of school children across Cambodia. It certainly has been a long time coming and a journey not without its share of struggle, stress and strain. Yet throughout this ordeal with COVID-19, we, along with our partners, Aide et Action, and the Consortium have been keeping our eyes focussed on this moment that we knew would come. Now that it has arrived, we are still working to ensure as smooth a transition as possible back into education for children through classroom refurbishment, teacher training and the provision of learning materials.”
Leveraging multi-government support and cross-sector partnerships, The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children will enrol over 116,000 out of school children across all 25 provinces into education by 2024.