Helping children get to school and improving the learning that happens there Helping children get to school and improving the learning that happens there

By Ed Shuttleworth -

SeeBeyondBorders is a non-profit social enterprise that aims to provide children in Cambodia with access to quality teaching and learning at school. We train Khmer primary teachers, develop school infrastructure and support local families trying to educate their children. Our vision is of Cambodian children empowered by education.

All children should have the opportunity to achieve at school and school should be where children are empowered to improve their own lives. For an education system to function, people's basic needs have to be met; there need to be school facilities; and able and trained teachers must teach. We support all three of these basic educational requirements through projects at a grass roots level, addressing improvements in access to and quality of education that will make an education system sustainable and help break the poverty cycle.

More than 50% of the population of Cambodia is less than 21 years old. Poor education and skills levels have left the country almost totally dependent on subsistence farming and some basic industries, such as garment manufacture and handicrafts, for survival.

Cambodia spends 1.7% of its GDP (2004 estimate) on education, ranking it at 172nd out of the 182 countries listed by the World Fact Book. The 2009 estimate of GDP for Cambodia is $11 billion, whereas for Australia the number is $931 billion and for the UK $2,222 billion.

Of the 85% (approximately) of students who register for school, only 56% stay on beyond year 6 (age 12).

There are many obstacles to improving education. Children typically spend four hours in school each day with a curriculum based on an assumed eight hour school day. Those who can afford it pay for additional time which supplements teachers’ inadequate salaries via the black market. Teachers earn about US$60 per month for teaching one session, either in the morning or afternoon. If they teach two classes, they can double the amount, but even $120 per month is not a living wage. As a consequence, teachers’ social status has fallen, as has their commitment to teaching. They are frequently absent, pursuing other income. Children too are frequently absent, working with their families particularly at harvest time.

While the ADB and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have funded the construction of many schools in recent time, schooling facilities in the countryside in particular are often in a dilapidated state with decrepit classrooms and toilets and no teaching resources.

Classroom

Even where a child has attended school, perhaps intermittently and in a class of 50, the family’s need for food often requires that they leave as soon as they can look after their siblings, do domestic duties such as collecting water, or go out to work. Children are an economic resource, allowing parents to look for work and food or supplementing family income, however meagre a contribution that might be. At harvest time, for example, a day’s labour is worth $1.50 (one dollar and fifty cents). However, in a world where the family survives on $2 per day, prolonging an education at such a low level seems irrelevant when the priority is the next meal, even before considering problems around getting to school, or the need for school materials and uniforms.

At SeeBeyondBorders we see our goals in terms of the sustainability of an education system and its ability to secure a brighter future. Our aims are to:

  • Assist families with the immediate issues that prevent them from sending their children to school in return for school attendance and a positive attitude to learning.
  • Improve the learning environments within the communities with whom we work to raise the respect given to the education system
  • Provide Cambodian teachers with the skills and tools to improve the education levels of these children through our Teach the Teacher programmes
  • Broaden Australian corporate support for children and their educational needs in Cambodia
  • Use the education platform to address other immediate educational issues such as personal hygiene, health and nutrition
  • Increase our support base by inviting Australians to visit Cambodia, see its needs and the potential impact of direct action through the projects we support.

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