Ta Pen Primary and Secondary School
Siem Reap, Cambodia
August 22, 2020
COVID-19 has forced educational institutions around the world to transition from face-to-face classroom to online learning and teaching. In Cambodia, all public and private educational institutions across the country were ordered to close in March, but some schools have been allowed to re-open by following strict safety standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Despite efforts by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) to offer video lessons via television, Facebook, Telegram and YouTube channels, there are many challenges facing primary school teachers and students, resulting in students’ limited educational achievement. The following paragraphs illuminate these issues.
There are many challenges. First, there is a lack of devices to access online video lessons and e-learning on television and other online platforms. The challenges are greater for rural primary school students. The dissemination of lessons on television is great, but it may not be effective for pupils living in rural areas. Some parents have lost their jobs while they have to spend a fortune to purchase a television, not to mention a computer, a tablet or a smartphone with internet connection to access online lessons. Some parents who have faced financial problems before the pandemic are having more difficulties during the outbreak of COVID-19. Thus, many children in rural areas may have lost the opportunity to continue their education because their parents cannot afford appropriate technological devices for them.
Second, teachers have faced great challenges when students are frequently absent from small group gatherings arranged by schools in the community. For example, teachers are more likely to find it frustrating and hard to assign tasks and facilitate lessons for those who have missed lessons provided through small groups. Although some teachers try to send homework to the absent students through their friends, who come to collect the assigned tasks, the outcome from them remains limited. Perhaps this issue relates to the financial condition of students’ parents. In the period of the pandemic, some students might unconsciously spend time working instead of studying; that is, they become a workforce to help their parents’ work in farms and fields.
Third, the inability of some pupils to take part in distance education is more likely to contribute to their inadequate academic performance. Frequently absent pupils, who find it hard to study online, will not be ready to catch up with others in the next grade. This may result in grade repetition. When schools re-open, there might be some educational problems if teachers are to keep teaching more lessons from the course books without taking the time to help those who are absent. It may also result in learning boredom. Therefore, primary school students in remote areas whose families are struggling financially may not be able to sustain their education. This may lead to higher drop-out rates as their learning is not well progressed due to poverty and other unfortunate circumstances. As a result, COVID-19 may create more challenges for Cambodia to achieve its vision to provide education for all.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has done a lot to provide students with the opportunity to continue their education amid the pandemic. However, access to online lessons and resources is still an issue for pupils from poverty-stricken families. MoEYS and local education departments should consider working with school principals and community chiefs to seek and ask for help from any families that have more than one TV. If this approach does not work, MoEYS and local education authorities should consider buying a TV set and install in a particular safe place, managed and scheduled by schools to allow small groups of children to learn from televised lessons.
Many primary school students will potentially be able to access lessons broadcast on television if there is facilitation by teachers and the community. However, the matter of hygiene and sanitation needs to be strictly adhered to. Teachers need to ensure that students maintain physical distancing, and encourage the use of masks, scarves and alcohol-based hand rub to prevent the viral spread.
For students who are frequently absent from small group gatherings, teachers can visit their homes to offer clarification and help if necessary. Also, working closely with village chiefs and commune leaders is a must-do thing to offer intervention and motivation to some parents who tend to ask their kids to help with work at homes or in the farms. Those parents should be encouraged to let their sons and/or daughters go to collect homework from their teachers to do self-study. Intervention by the local authority provides a sense of pressure to parents, which will enable them to try their best to allow and push their children to continue their study during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerning the lack of lesson engagement with teachers, MoEYS, supported by the local education departments, school principals and classroom teachers, should discuss the possibilities of providing additional training to any pupils who are unable to fully take part in distance learning as well as self-study. The length of training should be a short, lasting between 15 and 30 days with appropriate assessments to make sure students are ready for the next lessons. Such a strategy will likely play an important role in maintaining students’ readiness and allowing teachers to prepare other lessons and assessments to support those who have been absent from small group gatherings or unable to access online lessons. Obviously, this is an opportunity for them to catch up with others as well. If those young learners who have lost the chance to interact with their teachers and classmates during the pandemic are not scrutinized and taken care of, their long-life learning journey will be impacted. This will create further educational inequalities.
In sum, rural primary school teachers and students in Cambodia have faced great challenges in trying to offer and receive education amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Adequate measures and solutions should be taken to remedy the situation to ensure students in Cambodian primary schools in far-off regions can maintain their education, which will contribute to addressing the educational inequalities which have been exposed during the pandemic. Any solutions will be helpful for these disadvantages students who are in need of support that can allow them to receive appropriate education they need to ensure their future success.
SUN Sokna is an English Program Manager and English teacher at Ta Pen Primary and Secondary School, fully sponsored by Le Don du Choeur. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the University of South-East Asia, Siem Reap, Cambodia. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Build Bright University in Siem Reap. He has worked as a senior English teacher for Opportunities of Development thru Art in Siem Reap.