Education experts gathered in Phnom Penh last week to learn how a long-term focus by NGOs and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia has led to clear benefits for children from ethnic minority communities in remote provinces such as Ratanak Kiri and Mondul Kiri.
During the event Her Excellency Ton Sa Im, Undersecretary of State, touched on all the achievements in improving education for ethnic minority communities since work began on this is 2003. She has often received praise from international scholars for the government’s commitment to using Indigenous languages for teaching and learning.
Multilingual education—the process of teaching students from ethnic minority communities
literacy and other subjects in their home language while teaching the national language— has progressively institutionalized by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Cambodia and this is widely admired in the region. It is now anchored in the Education Law and embedded in the National Strategic Plan, and in 2016 the Ministry launched the first Multilingual Education National Action Plan.
For over a decade, CARE Cambodia has partnered with university researchers from Australia and the U.S. to study the impact that being taught in their home language has on the overall school performance of girls and boys form ethnic minority communities. A growing body of research makes clear that these students have advantages not only in their literacy development, but also in the development of problem-solving skills and other areas of cognition.
Associate Professor Dr Carol Benson of Teachers College, Columbia University, a specialist in what is known as L1-based multilingual education (or MLE) internationally, spoke of these benefits at the event and made recommendations for how to strengthen the Cambodian model even further. “When students are taught in the language they speak at home as well as in Khmer, we see that they perform better—both in the national language and the language they speak in their community,” she says.
“In Cambodia, ethnic minority students are taught in their home language until Grade 3. Other countries which offer education in both languages for the whole of primary school have found that their students perform even better, so we hope Cambodia will continue to expand the great work being done in the lower grades to the upper grades of primary school.”