Cambodia: The pandemic may have closed schools but learning never stops

Thanks to the GPE grant and support from other partners, Cambodia is making sure that children keep learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and that students can safely return to school.

June 15, 2021 by Salla Auren, UNICEF Cambodia
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5 minutes read
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Students filling their drinking bottles are given reminders at a water station in Aranhraingsei Lower Secondary School in Siem Reap province. Credit: UNICEF/2021/Sum Viyoura
Safety and hygiene measures have become everyday practice in Cambodian schools; with social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing a normal feature. Students filling their drinking bottles are given reminders at a water station in Aranhraingsei Lower Secondary School in Siem Reap province.
Credit: UNICEF/2021/Sum Viyoura

A global pandemic has closed all schools in Cambodia, affecting over 3 million children across the country. The scale of the crisis threatens to roll back years of progress and leave the most vulnerable deprived of essential services in education, child protection, health, nutrition and water - and the impact could span generations.

Giving children alternative ways to learn and rebuilding a routine has been a critical part of UNICEF’s response. Together with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), UNICEF is working to ensure the continuation of learning for all children, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalized, while schools are closed amidst the current COVID-19 community outbreak.

To give school directors and teachers guidance and practical tips on how to conduct teaching and learning during the pandemic, MoEYS and UNICEF developed a Safe Operation of Schools in the Context of COVID-19 handbook. This handbook was distributed to all 13,000 schools and 3,000 community pre-schools in Cambodia.

The handbook not only incorporates information on COVID-19, but also focuses on health and safety, teaching and learning, inclusiveness, wellbeing and protection of children – principles that should be carefully considered during school reopening and in situations where school are issued to reclose again.

Mr. Proeun Pronh, the school director of Aranhraingsei school described, “My school received 15 copies of the Back to School handbook, one for each teacher. The booklet has very clear instructions on how to operate a school during the pandemic. After studying the booklet, we decided to prepare more handwashing areas, make sure that all toilets are operational, and prepare first aid kids and disinfection materials in our school.”

“We also set up a committee to perform different tasks such as doing temperature checks at the school entrance, disinfecting classrooms on a daily basis, and monitoring mask wearing and social distancing in the school premises. We remind students of social distancing and hand washing at least once every hour.”

Ms. Nhuon Sopheap, a grade 7 teacher at the Aranhraingsei school added, “After reading the booklet, I understand more about the symptoms of a person affected by the virus, and measures that can be taken to prevent its spread”.

Students at Aranhraingsei Lower Secondary School participating in school cleaning and disinfection to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Credit: UNICEF/2021/Proeun Pronh
Students at Aranhraingsei Lower Secondary School participating in school cleaning and disinfection to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Credit:
UNICEF/2021/Proeun Pronh

The handbook was not the only practical measure the ministry, UNICEF and partners put together to help teachers and school directors create safe and supported learning environments across the country.

In fact, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) COVID-19 funding enabled all primary and lower secondary schools in rural and urban areas to receive a block grant to support their operations in this very challenging and unpredictable environment.

Mr. Proeun Pronh said, “My school received a total among of 3,340,000 Riels, which is around $835. I have planned this budget to last for five months, from January to May 2021. We have spent some 40% of the budget: first for purchasing hygiene items such as soap, buckets, masks, thermometers and cleaning detergent; and secondly, we spent some amount for photocopying handouts and exercises for students.”

“This fund has contributed enormously to the school’s operation during the pandemic. First, the school has more hygiene supplies which means that students can wash their hands regularly and we can disinfect classrooms frequently, at least twice a day.

Secondly, the funding allowed the school to buy an extra reserve of masks, which we were able to give to teachers and disadvantaged students who cannot afford to buy them. Thirdly, the money enabled the school to photocopy handouts, assignments, and worksheets for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not have smartphones.

This support was very timely, considering that our school had to close again last month due to the community transmission in the country.”

Mr. Proeun Pronh, the school director of Aranhraingsei School, described how the management in his school needs to find ways to support teachers with online and distance learning, especially to the 49% of students who do not have a smart phone at home. Credit: UNICEF/2021/Lem Ya
Mr. Proeun Pronh, the school director of Aranhraingsei School, described how the management in his school needs to find ways to support teachers with online and distance learning, especially to the 49% of students who do not have a smart phone at home.
Credit:
UNICEF/2021/Lem Ya

Nhuon Sopheap explained how she supports her students to study and learn now that schools have closed again:

“Currently I teach my students online through Telegram and Messenger groups. I share links to MoEYS online learning videos on YouTube, and summarize the lessons or exercises, which I share in the online learning groups. After my students send their homework in the group, I mark them, share the right answers and give feedback to them.”

Ms. Nhuon Sopheap, a grade 7 teacher at Aranhraingsei School. UNICEF/2021/Lem Ya
Ms. Nhuon Sopheap, a grade 7 teacher at Aranhraingsei School, prepared an online learning schedule for her students. Through Messenger group she sends learning videos, exercises, and feedback to her students.
Credit:
UNICEF/2021/Lem Ya

Chheang Sopheak, a grade 9 student at Aranhraingsei Lower Secondary School, added: “We all received online learning schedule from our teachers last week, and we start learning from home this week. My math, English, chemistry and physics teachers send us lessons through Telegram and then they explain the lessons through Zoom.”

This is not the first time that Sopheak is learning from a distance, as schools were closed for six months last year, “Last year we had a small learning group, which was supported by our teachers. This year we’ve not been able to do this small group learning due to the increased severity of the pandemic.”

“I also know that 8 students in our class do not have smart phones, and last year they came to school to pick up worksheets. Due to the current restrictions, we are not allowed to do that, so we just collaborate with our friends to do the assignments and send back to teachers through the online groups”.

Sopheak reflected on the current COVID-19 situation: “I don’t think that school is a safe place now that the virus is spreading in the community. I am afraid it will affect our learning and that I will fail my grade 9 exams this year.

I am, however, glad that our teachers taught all the students how to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and what to do if we suspect we have caught the virus. My teachers also pay special attention to students who previously failed the exam and even students who left the learning group. I am trying my best to invite our friends back to the group.”

Chheang Sopheak, a grade 9 student at Aranhraingsei School, is helping her friends stay connected with their studies and the work teachers are sending through online learning groups. Credit: UNICEF/2021/Pen Sokuntheary
Chheang Sopheak, a grade 9 student at Aranhraingsei School, is helping her friends stay connected with their studies and the work teachers are sending through online learning groups.
Credit:
UNICEF/2021/Pen Sokuntheary

Practical support to all Cambodian schools, including school block grants, communication assets through a nationwide back to school campaign, and a handbook on the Safe Operation of Schools in the Context of COVID-19 are being delivered through Cambodia’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts with funding assistance from GPE.

UNICEF is the grant agent for this US$7 million program, which is delivering emergency support to schools and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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East Asia and Pacific: Cambodia

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It is very impressive!

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