CARE’s long-term multilingual education program is helping Cambodian children like 10-year-old Peat* have brighter prospects by ensuring they have the opportunity to learn in their local language as well as in Cambodia’s national language of Khmer.
Peat is from the Kreung ethnic minority, studying grade two at the Krala village primary school. His teacher Mao Nangmark and his parents did not have the opportunity to learn in their own language. Instead, they were placed in Khmer classrooms unable to communicate with their teachers and classmates.
His teacher Nangmark first left school after grade two, as her family could not afford the materials to send her to school. She returned a few years later to complete grades three, four and five, before leaving again part-way through grade six.
Nangmark found it challenging to learn. Despite walking five kilometres to and from school each day, she felt ignored by her teacher who taught in Khmer and ignored ethnic minority students, and therefore did not ask questions or engage. But in 2004, the Krala school council approached her to consider being a teacher.
“I asked them, how can I be a teacher when I have such a low education? But the school board just encouraged me to try the training to see how I go.”
She completed CARE’s six month bilingual teacher training course and started teaching more than 10 years ago. The course equipped her to work in classrooms, teaching a range of subjects including ethnic minority languages, Khmer, mathematics and social sciences. Since, she has continued to receive support through CARE’s long in-service training.
“I wanted to become a teacher to support children and give them easy access to education – which I did not have. I want the students to learn their own language as well as Khmer, for all of reading, writing and speaking.”
She is determined to help all students who are from similar backgrounds and give them the support they need, even those who learn a bit slower, so that they can learn and become contributing citizens.
“It is so different from when I went to school, when the teachers just spoke Khmer. I remember this and keep it in my heart and mind.”
Over the years CARE has also developed teaching materials and books in ethnic minority languages, appropriate and reflecting each individual culture as well as addressing important issues including gender equality.
Nangmark is now benefitting from further workshops and training through CARE’s multilingual education program, which have helped to continuously improve her teaching skills. “I learnt about making lesson plans, how to better use materials like pictures, and further advice on how to teacher Khmer and Kreung. Now I prepare better for each subject, and sometimes practice activities before class.”
Many students attending the school will start learning to read and write when they first walk through the gates. Peat’s parents only speak their indigenous language Kreung and are unable to read and write. They live on a rice and vegetable farm not far from his school, where Peat helps on the farm and collect water.
For Peat, his future is already looking bright. He likes to come to school every day, learn new things and play tag with his friends.
He hopes to finish grade 12 at school, even though he will have to travel to another district or the provincial capital to attend upper secondary, and then become a motorbike mechanic. His family is very proud that he is learning so much at school. Without multilingual education, there would be a very different story for Peat and all his classmates.
The multiligual education program was initiated by the Australian Government and many private donors.