Cambodia’s out of school children: From the rice field to the classroom

In Cambodian’s southern Prey Veng province, 13-year-old student Pea Srey Pin’s desk remained empty for most of the school week as the young girl chose fishing over class attendance recently. Without parents or caregivers at home, Srey Pin was fishing to survive and as a result of taking care of herself, her education fell to the wayside as she became one of many out of school children in rural Cambodia.

Committed to ensuring students reach their full potential, volunteer teacher Chea Sathun began to fear that fifth-grader Srey Pin would find behind her peers. Upon meeting Srey Pin outside one day, she told her teacher that she simply couldn’t afford to come to school anymore. Her parents and siblings had relocated to the city of Siem Reap in search of work and she was now living alone, left to her own devices to take care of herself. “I have no choice but to go fishing in the rice fields so that I can earn some money to support my studies,” she explained.

The Cambodian Consortium For Out of School Children

Under The Cambodian Consortium For Out of School Children, Action Education, in partnership with Educate A Child, a global program of the Education Above All Foundation, is working to identify children like Srey Pin at risk of dropping out of school and setting in place solutions to keep them in education.

Koh Som Primary School, Kep province, Cambodia, a school supported by The Cambodian Consortium For Out of School Children. Photo: Christine Redmond/Action Education, March 2020.

In Kampong Prasat commune, Prey Veng province, we are working with local partner Youth Star Cambodia to create awareness of the value of education and extra academic support and educational activities that support students’ learning to keep them in school and from falling behind. Youth Star’s program puts volunteers into communities that teach extra classes, offer tutoring and run educational activities such as mobile libraries and learning through play.

A transformation

Volunteer Sathun described Srey Pin as enjoying learning very much and putting effort into her studies. However, according to her teacher, she struggled with mathematics and pleaded with him to let her give it up. Committed to ensuring she achieved numerical skills, Sathun explained the value of mathematics for her future and convinced her to keep trying. “Though days have passed on, I never gave up on explaining, encouraging and convincing her to return to the class, and I even came up with an idea to buy her a few books, expecting that this would be of help to convince her,” he explained. “Surprisingly, she finally decided to return to my class willingly.”

After months of effort put into teaching this class had passed, success began to emerge, revealed Sathun. “Srey Pin came to me excitedly exclaiming ‘Teacher, teacher! Finally, I can do calculation—including adding, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Now I did it!”

Now, Srey Pin remains committed to her studies and is even assisting Sathun in running a mobile library in the community. “She also took my place as a teacher teaching small children to write and read stories for them,” he said.

As a volunteer, seeing Sathun’s journey is a source of great joy for Sathun. “I couldn’t be more excited to see a girl being able to beat all the odds and getting this far today,” he said. “Srey Pin has changed from a girl being bored of calculation to a girl being keen for it, from a student being often absent from class to a student coming to study regularly, and has truly become a role model in the community”.

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