How Save the Children is helping children access safe education in Cambodia

IKEA co-workers from Poland are travelling to Cambodia to visit some incredible projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Mr. Out Sarang, who coordinates Save the Children’s project fighting discrimination and violence in schools, is here to explain some of the hurdles Cambodian children have to overcome.

 Out Sarang from Save the Children Cambodia
Out Sarang from Save the Children Cambodia

The population of Cambodia is young—41% of the population is under 18 years of age. Almost 20% of the Cambodian population lives on less than 1.25 USD per day, while 47% are in multidimensional poverty of health, education and living standards*. But as well as poverty, many Cambodian children—especially those living in remote provinces—face underlying problems such as lack of access to education, and corporal and emotional punishment by their teachers and parents.

The net enrollment rate in primary education varies widely between provinces and between urban, rural and remote areas. The major problem in the remote areas is lack of schools, but even if a school exists, many children still do not get the chance to attend it. Despite the fact that education is free in Cambodia, the “hidden” costs of sending children to school are still very high for poor families. School uniforms, school materials and transportation costs—as well as the opportunity cost of keeping children in school instead of working to support the family income—can be a heavy burden for poor households.

Project photo 1 Cambodia

In the areas where Save the Children works, children from ethnic minorities face many difficulties due to language barriers, because education is only provided in Khmer. Teachers lack the teaching materials and cultural understanding necessary to support their students.

Children with disabilities find it particularly difficult to get an education. There is a lack of information on the total number of children with disabilities; however, estimates suggest that close to 10% of these children never access any education at all.

Project photo Cambodia 2

Traditional beliefs and lack of inclusive education systems are the major barriers preventing them from accessing education. Traditionally, Cambodians believe that disability is caused by bad karma, the result of an evil deed in a previous life. Children and young people with disabilities are often hidden away, and many do not get any health support at all, let alone being sent to school. In addition, many teachers don’t know teaching methods that support students who have disabilities, a fact that limits those children’s participation in school.

Project photo Cambodia 3

With funding from the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children in Cambodia is supporting 147 schools in six provinces to ensure that all children aged 6-14 years have opportunities to complete a relevant, inclusive, quality education. Our main activities include providing school improvement grants, promoting strong links with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (especially Provincial Offices of Education) to improve teacher training, and mobilising communities to support the enrolment of marginalised children.We have also helped create new textbooks to support bilingual education.

Project photo Cambodia 4

As a result, to date 43,486 children(19,709 girls) have been enrolled in the 147 supported schools. Of these, 6,349 (2,236 girls) are disadvantaged children (children with disabilities, ethnic minority children and the poorest children). Save the Children in Cambodia will continue its efforts to ensure that children can access not only schooling but also a child-friendly learning environment.

In the schools we’re supporting, the net enrolment rate for primary schools was 94% in 2014, an 8% increase compared to 2012 (86%). The rate of children who are subjected to corporal punishment by their teachers was remarkably reduced from 77% in 2012 to only 36% in mid-2014. Reported incidents of school bullying have been halved, cut from 67% in 2012 to 33% in 2014.

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In addition, we have provided grants to 85 schools to improve school infrastructure by installing ramps and handrails and building separate latrines for girls and boys to create a safe learning environment. We have trained local government officials, teachers, children’s councils and parents in child participatory teaching methods, inclusive education and positive discipline.

Sometimes the simplest of interventions are the ones that work the best. A small grant can empower a community to look after its own members. Running a workshop can make school a safe, encouraging place for children to learn. And buying a soft toy in Poland can give a child in rural Cambodia an education.

Project photo Cambodia


* Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2014


    Juli Riegler