SA’ANG, Kandal — An Ou Romchek villager says her 5-year-old daughter wouldn’t be learning to read if it weren’t for teacher Dy Theavy opening up her home to pupils every morning.
“If we left the child at home, they wouldn’t know anything. Let them go to the kindergarten, and they can read,” said Heng Sina, a 38-year-old factory worker. “When it’s time to go to public school soon, they’ll learn fast.”
The village’s community kindergarten also helped children be more polite and courageous, she said.
Another resident, Na Srey Leak, said her 4-year-old was memorizing letters and numbers quickly thanks to her attendance.
The alternatives to the community kindergarten were traveling far from the village or paying for a private education, she said.
“Some children who do not have much money can go study there,” the 32-year-old said.
Ou Romchek village, in Svay Brateal commune, built the community kindergarten about two years ago. It is part of a national policy to expand access to early childhood education in rural areas, according to an NGO. A teacher is paid a stipend by the commune to open her home every weekday morning from 7 a.m. to around 9 a.m.
In Ou Romchek, that teacher is Dy Theavy. For supplies, she has a whiteboard, colorful tables and 10 plastic chairs. She has also bought her own posters and books for the children. Theavy said she currently has 10 pupils learning free of charge.
Theavy, who has been a teacher since 2010, said she was still working on getting some parents in the village to see the value in the community kindergarten and education in general.
“I do it out of love and wanting the children in the village to develop their knowledge,” she said. Children who did not have a proper introduction could struggle when they got to school. They also need their parents’ encouragement, she said.
“It makes them interested, they like it, they want to study,” she said. “But if the parents indulge them and don’t send them to class, then the children do not progress.”
Prum Rithy, education specialist at World Vision, said community kindergartens were a response to Cambodia’s need for increased access to early childhood education in rural areas.
Some areas only have public schools from Grade 1, so 3- to 5-year-olds need the community kindergartens to help them prepare for primary school, Rithy said.
The kindergartens typically have 20-25 pupils each and are taught under the stilts of teachers’ homes or someone else’s house in the community, he said.
But early childhood education had not yet reached its goals to be equitable and inclusive, he said. “Greater attention needs to be paid to each stage of education to discover the root cause of the many problems facing the educational system in Cambodia,” he said.
According to Unicef as of 2018, 43 percent of children aged 3-5 in Cambodia were enrolled in early childhood education, and only 27 percent had developed age-appropriate literacy and numeracy skills.
“At the primary level, almost 25 percent of third-grade children do not know how to write even a word in a writing test,” it said, cautioning that low standards lead to children dropping out of school.
In Svay Brateal, commune chief Nuon Soeun said the community kindergarten in Ou Romchek was intended to address that gap in education as well as ease the burdens of parents.
“Many families are poor,” he said. “There was no public kindergarten, so we set up the community kindergarten. We took the commune budget and spent it to support the kindergarten teachers.”