Greater inclusion in the classroom is helping minority students excel at science
“Before I did not understand how to teach students from ethnic minority communities. I thought to myself that ethnic minority students could not learn well as Khmer students.”
These are the words of 22-year-old Sokkanha, a science teacher at a lower secondary school in Cambodia where nearly half of the students are from the Phnong ethnic minority group.Like many in Cambodia, Sokkanha held views which were prejudiced against those from ethnic minorities, but CARE’s support has helped change her attitude and ensure that the students in her classes all receive equal support to gain an education.
Sokkanha used to find it difficult to teach students whose first language was not her own. "I had some challenges when teaching students whose home language is not Khmer; for example sometimes students did not understand technical words in science subjects.”
Training developed by CARE helped her with strategies to support students to understand her lessons and connect with the subject. “Now I write technical words on a flip chart and translate these into Phnong,” she says. “I explain and guide Khmer students to be understanding and encourage their peers to study.”
The training Sokkanha received has gone beyond simply ensuring students understand all of the words used in class. She has explored the many ways in which children may be excluded from classroom learning – from cultural barriers to gender stereotypes – and has adapted her teaching to ensure all students can reach their full potential.
“I have an example of how this new understanding has helped my teaching,” says Sokkanha. “When explaining about acids I used some technical words and explained these in the students’ home language, also drawing pictures and show scientific concepts in visual ways. As result all students including Phnong students understood the lesson well. Some of my Phnong students scored better than their Khmer peers, especially some of the girls in the class. This helped me realise that students from ethnic minorities have just as good an ability to learn as Khmer students.”
Sokkanha now believes that more teachers should have the opportunity deepen their understanding of how to ensure all students, regardless of gender or ethnicity, have the opportunity to learn.
“I think that education is very important for students of all genders and ethnicities and we need to change the behaviour of teachers and students to improve quality of education. This helps improve results for all students."My hope for the future of education in Cambodia is to improve quality of education in science subjects. Science is currently very important for Cambodia as this can help us to develop our country and the world. Nowadays many students including those from ethnic minorities are becoming more interested in physics and chemistry and I want to do all I can to help them succeed.”
These activities are part of the Education for Ethnic Minorities project, which is supported by the Australian Government, and many other private donors.