We taught English Classes from the onset of our work in Chanleas Dai commune in 2006. Whilst we quickly realized that this didn’t provide any lasting solution in terms of improving education in the region, we recognized that the skill of a second language is invaluable when it comes to further education, scholarships, and employment. An improved knowledge of English gave the students a competitive advantage to utilize when pursuing their professional dreams for the future.
We believe that language learning should not be limited to the language itself, but also explore new countries, cultures and ways of understanding. Therefore, our English classes did not merely focus on language proficiency, but also introduced the students to ideas to which they had not previously been exposed, such as global citizenship. The PEPY* teachers facilitated lessons using student-led, participatory learning techniques, ensuring that the students were engaged and had fun.
After an evaluation of our programs in 2012, the decision was made to transition out of the English Classes program in 2014. The evaluation had identified an over-riding desire amongst the Kralanh community that their young people access skilled employment, which led to our decision to focus our programs on high school and university-age students.
- The classes were successful in improving students’ ability at written and spoken English, as evidenced by pre and post-year tests to monitored the students’ progress.
- Students became more confident in expressing their ideas in English as a result of the support and encouragement provided in the classes.
- Past students have gone on to teach English to other children in the community.
- The principal of Kralanh High School noted that the level of English of students coming from Chanleas Dai was of a markedly different quality than that of students who had attended other junior high schools without access to PEPY English classes.
Challenges / Lessons learned
- Whilst it is a requirement of the Ministry of Education in Cambodia that English is taught in primary schools, the majority of teachers, both at primary and junior high level, do not speak English themselves, and therefore lack the necessary capacity to teach the students. In order to address this problem, we designed the Traveling Teacher Support program to meet the need in primary schools; however it was not practical to run this project at a junior high school level (due to the limitations of our target area and the lack of engagement from the teachers). It became apparent, that in PEPY’s absence, the extra-curricular classes at the higher level were not maintainable, and the only way in which they could continue would be through us funding additional teaching staff to conduct them. While the impact of the project was sustainable (i.e. the students were building skills of life-long value), there was no real way to continue it following PEPY’s withdrawal.
- When PEPY initially began working with the Chanleas Dai community, it was common for many of the adults to illegally migrate to Thailand for seasonal labor. However, since 2010, as a result of improved diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cambodia, the number of people making the (now safer) illegal border crossings significantly increased, an effect which was mirrored in the younger population of the Chanleas Dai community. It became common for students to leave for Thailand after finishing primary school to earn money for themselves and their families, or drop out of school to facilitate their parents migration. Despite the offering of English lessons as an incentive to stay in school, we found that whilst this did show signs of success, it was limited, and attendance at the school continued to decline.
- Another factor that PEPY recognized in relation to attendance, was that the program’s level of success could not be measured in correlation to the number of beneficiaries. After conducting the English lessons at school level for number of years, we came to the realization that the lessons would prove a greater success in smaller class sizes. This was a contributory factor to the decision PEPY made in 2014 to transition the classes to the scholarship students in Siem Reap.
- We were met with continual challenges when working with the teaching staff at the junior high school. We found that the government teachers were not invested in the work, and despite extensive efforts to engage them in the programs, they failed to recognize the benefits to the students, and lacked the necessary interest to conduct them successfully.
- All the students entered the English classes at varying ability levels, but were all taught in one class. This made it difficult for the instructor to teach the students efficiently and productively, and therefore students were unable to develop skills specific to their ability and need.
- It was recognized that it was important for the students to first learn to talk about their own lives in English before they began to learn vocabulary which was relevant to other countries and situations. However, many of the English-language resources available at the time were not intended for a Cambodian audience. Whilst we developed a curriculum for grade 7 to address this, it was fairly basic, lacking a correct structure to promote grammar progression, and omitted listening activities entirely. The curriculum was very much of a supplementary nature, rather than remedial.
For more detailed information about this program, find our English Classes Final Report here.
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*Up until January 2015 PEPY Empowering Youth was known as PEPY, read more about our localization here.