After testing the students in October 2006, we found that many of them lacked any substantial Khmer reading or writing capabilities. As a result, PEPY* decided that there should be an enhanced focus on Khmer literacy, as well as increasing the accessibility of the small library which had been established previously by a large NGO. As such, in December 2006, we transformed the library into a colorful space which would invite students to read there during school hours. In addition to this, we also trained a member of the community in library management, and began to include library time in the school curriculum.
Over the time that PEPY ran the school library, the monthly number of books that were checked out increased exponentially, and the commitment to the initiative from the school community greatly improved. The library became a model of excellence, used by the Ministry of Education for other teachers and schools to learn and take inspiration from.
PEPY funded the resources and staff to successfully run the Chanleas Dai library for six years, and in 2012 we felt that it was the right time for ownership to be handed to the school. With this in mind, we conducted trainings with the school teachers to equip them to run the library and effectively utilize its materials. In addition to this, we supported the school in the establishment of a school council to help facilitate the running of the library.
- In 2007, an average of 70 books was checked out per month, however, by 2010, this figure had reached nearly 1,800. Students would not only check out books for themselves, but also take books home for their parents and siblings to read.
- The library became a popular place which was utilized during free times, and PEPY staff noted that a passion for reading was still evident amongst the students once they progressed to high school.
- At the beginning of the program it was a challenge to convince the principal to incorporate an hour of library time per week into the curriculum. However, in 2010, having seen a noticeable improvement in literacy levels amongst the students, the school made the independent decision to increase this time to two hours per week.
- The library activities encouraged the students to participate in group work and ask questions, both of which are not usually common in Cambodian education. There was also an evident growth in the confidence of the students, and although this cannot be solely attributed to this project, it does hold responsibility for promoting this in a classroom setting.
- The library became a priority in the school, and despite PEPY’s transition out of the project, the school sourced the funds to hire a librarian for two hours each day.
- There was a distinct improvement in the critical thinking and analytical capacity of the students.
Challenges / Lessons Learned
- Whilst the school was welcoming of PEPY’s development of the library, initially, the school community lacked a strong understanding of the purposes of the library, and the importance of literacy activities; teachers were originally not engaged with the program, however this improved as the impact of the project became evident. However, generating and maintaining engagement remained a constant challenge for the PEPY team.
- When the library project was started, it became clear to PEPY staff that although the students could read the English, they were lacking the analytical capacity to understand what they were reading. Therefore, we engaged the librarians in literacy teaching so that they could facilitate the students’ understanding.
- When we started the library, there were initially very few resources available in Khmer, especially for early literacy. Donated storybooks were often in English, or at a level which was too advanced for the students. Thankfully, the BETT project created a comprehensive collection of Khmer books, and offered training to teachers on using the books, as well as literacy techniques they could utilize in the classroom.
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*Up until January 2015 PEPY Empowering Youth was known as PEPY, read more about our localization here.