Where there are libraries and book resources in schools, it is not uncommon for them to remain unused. Lacking in effective training, teachers are reluctant to incorporate book learning into their lessons and the children do not benefit from the resources. In 2009, we established a Classroom Library project with the aim of promoting a culture of reading and effective utilization of book resources within schools.
We recognized that the traditional school library was not suited to Cambodian schools, and therefore connected with BETT and Room to Read to develop a library of selected Khmer children’s books that supplemented classroom activities to engage students. In addition to this we provided teacher training activities to support teachers in understanding how to use books as part of literacy lessons; these were planned so that they furthered the aim of the BETT’s Grade 1 and 2 books. By using these techniques to bring books into the classroom, the hope was that teachers would be empowered to creatively use the resources available to them, and that the reading materials would be more accessible to the students.
After the PEPY* team refocused the vision and mission of the organization in 2011 it was agreed that this teacher training program did not fully align with our new direction and so the decision was made to transition out of the project.
- Over the course of the program 50 Classroom Library units were installed across 10 schools in rural Siem Reap. This granted 3,000 students access to reading materials and resources, with over 40 teachers trained to facilitate this.
- There was a marked change in the attitudes of the students towards books, with considerably more being borrowed and read during break times.
- Although the teachers were not always successful in incorporating literacy activities which utilized books into lesson plans, they did encourage students to independently make use of the resources available to them.
Challenges / Lessons Learned
- Participation and motivation of the government teachers was one of the greatest challenges faced for the duration on the project. Low salaries, coupled with the lack of value placed on education, means that teachers are often unwilling to go beyond the standard call of duty. High levels of teacher turnover also increased this. However, although literacy activity trainings were met with resistance, and their use was inconsistent, other aspects of the project saw success.
- Initially, PEPY provided teachers with 10,000 riel to cover travel expenses and encourage teachers to attend trainings. After a while, this compensation was stopped, and a result a significant drop in attendance was measured. We decided that we wanted professional development to act as motivation for the teachers; we realized that if they were motivated financially to attend the trainings, they were still lacking an incentive to implement the techniques outside of training.
- Although the project was designed in alignment with the Ministry of Education’s strategic plan, because it was independently run by PEPY, it did not receive the same prioritization as other initiatives. Therefore, PEPY realizes that were we to implement such a project again, we would work with an existing power structure, such as the Ministry of Education, to ensure that there was an increased level of accountability, which we believe would increase its success.
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*Up until January 2015 PEPY Empowering Youth was known as PEPY, read more about our localization here