Certificates now demonstrate actual learning rather than mere participation in a program
The launch of the national Child Friendly School policy over a decade ago has gone a long way towards harmonising Cambodia’s education system, bringing consistency to a curriculum that was previously often haphazard.
Under the auspices of Hang Choun Narton, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has completely overhauled secondary and high school national exam standards, meaning certificates now demonstrate actual learning rather than suggest mere participation in a program.
But what are so-called Child Friendly Schools and what does the system represent?
Rather than requiring the building of new schools, the program instead looks at how institutions are run and requires the implementation of a set of standards and ideals that bring change from within.
Chan Sophea, Vice-Secretary of the Cambodian Council for Youth Development and the head of Primary School Department, said that in order to qualify as a Child Friendly School, the institution needed to have six components.
The first was to strive to give all children, regardless of their means, a place in school and the opportunity to study.
Secondly, the school should improve the quality of learning and teaching and do whatever it takes to help pupils keep up with their education. According to the latest figures available from the Ministry of Education, some 97 percent of Cambodian children are currently enrolled in school.
The third pillar involves the rights of children and the school environment.
“We want teaching without using violence such as beatings or other punishments,” said Sophea. “The school environment is also very important as we need to keep their spaces clean and organised so pupils love coming to school and keep interested.”
The fourth strand of the system states there should be no discrimination based on gender. “Respecting gender means promoting the freedom of both male and female students to acquire equal opportunity to education,” said Sophea.
The fifth principle requires the participation of families and the community as a whole in education, and also allowing children themselves to be heard.
“This is something that all parents and guardians need to understand, and why we have established a Children’s Council in every school,” said Sophea.
“Whenever a school or a community has a meeting to decide on something, the Children Council will also be there to participate and voice their suggestion. However, the youngsters must also respect their elders. According to Cambodian custom, youngsters should not interrupt while their elder are talking.
The sixth and final pillar of the Child Friendly School policy calls for government support – both logistical and financial – for all the Kingdom’s schools.
“Systematic support means that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will send delegates and funds according to the needs of every school,” said Sophea, adding that ministry figures show Cambodia has some 7,189 schools teaching from Grade 1 to Grade 6.
“In 12 provinces and cities in Cambodia, the government supplies two tons of rice and other food annually to a program provides one meal a day to all students,” said Sophea.
“Moreover, there are about 90,000 poor students receives financial help of $60 (240,000 riels) per year.”