In the summer of 2008, we hosted our first Khmer Literacy Camp. We were keen to provide learning opportunities to students outside of the school term, whilst also promoting literacy and child-centered learning activities. The camp was designed to benefit both teachers and students. Teachers were hired to participate in literacy teaching methodologies in the first week, and then in the second week students were invited to attend the camp, allowing students the opportunity to put their new techniques into practice.
In 2012, after consulting with the schools involved in hosting the camps, PEPY* decided that the project would benefit from a break. We found that many teachers and students had now participated in the training for more than one year, and the schools had their own priorities in accordance with their development plans.
- The Literacy Camps reached over 700 students and 79 teachers. There was a continual increase in attendance figures until 2012, where we saw a decline in numbers, though this was in part a result of the reduction of the number of participatory schools.
- At the first Literacy Camp, the PEPY trainers dedicated the first day to encouraging the teachers to share their ideas and opinions; this was a new and challenging concept for the teachers However, the following year, our team saw a marked change in the attitude of the teachers, who were lively, energetic and full of uninhibited discussion.
- In 2007, the Cambodian government adopted a Child Friendly Schools (CFS) policy, whereby all schools should operate in the best interests of the children. Despite it being a requirement that all schools be aware of this policy, and strive to develop in this way, PEPY did not find this to be the case. Of the principals interviewed at the offset of the Literacy Camp initiative, only half claimed to understand the CFS policy, and less than a quarter said that it was implemented in their classrooms. The teacher training aspect of the program had a strong focus on CFS, and as a result the teachers developed a true understanding of the policy and the importance of their role in implementing it in their classrooms.
- One of the key purposes for the PEPY team coordinating Literacy Camp was to demonstrate to both students, and teachers, that learning could be animated, dynamic and fun. Over the seven years that we worked with Chanleas Dai Primary School, we saw a substantial shift in the attitude and learning atmosphere of the school; teachers became innovative in their learning techniques, and students were motivated to pursue educational opportunities of their own accord. Although these results cannot be attributed solely to the Literacy Camps, they definitely contributed to the shift in the students and teachers approach to learning.
- Attendance of both students and teachers at the Literacy Camps gradually increased over the years, and in 2011 we decided to add Math to the syllabus.
Challenges/ Lessons learned
- The concept of ‘Summer Camps’ was one which was difficult to convey, as it does not exist in Cambodia. Initially, it was a challenged for us to engage students and teachers, and explain why it would be a fun and beneficial thing to participate in. We tried to search for a word in Khmer that would encapsulate the meaning and essence of the concept, eventually settling on ‘titvi amnang’, which roughly translates into ‘reading festival/celebration’. However, we still found it difficult to explain how, despite being a learning opportunity, camps were distinguished from school, and would be fun and engaging. Thankfully, the principal at teachers at Chanleas Dai were willing to trust us and allowed us to initiate the Literacy Camp. The success of the first year cemented the concept in peoples’ minds, making it much easier to communicate in subsequent years.
- In the first years of the camp, PEPY paid the teachers attending the training $20 per day, however, we realized this was too high in comparison to salaries and prices in the area. Therefore, we made the decision to reduce the amount substantially the next year, and then gradually a little more each subsequent year. This reduction of fee was understandably unpopular amongst teachers, but as PEPY was committed to developing a commitment to quality of education, we were reluctant to motivate teachers financially. It was a problem which presented itself each year in the planning phases of the camps.
- The PEPY team also found that students would join midway through the camp, following encouragement from their friends to come along. As teachers wanted to encourage enthusiasm and include all students who were keen to learn, they were placed under pressure to test new students, fit them into the appropriate grade, as well as ensuring that they could catch up with their peers. This was good practice for teachers, in terms of management on a number of levels, but it was a challenge nonetheless.
- PEPY came to the realization that the Literacy Camp was not an economically sustainable project. While the costs were relatively low in relation to the number of students and teachers who reaped the benefits, it was not possible for the schools to run the project without PEPY’s funding. Moreover, after having run the project for a number of years, it became clear that the need for it was no longer as strong as it had been; students and teachers, who had attended the camps multiple times, lost their sense of interest and excitement in the project.
For more information on this program, please read our final report here.
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*Up until January 2015 PEPY Empowering Youth was known as PEPY, read more about our localization here.