More than just a Bike-to-School Program
by Layheng Ting
Providing bikes to students doesn't always address the root cause of high dropout rates. Investing time in people and making sure that children have a strong support network is a first step towards ensuring success in school.
Photo Credit: Unknown
It is sad, but probably not surprising, to see high drop-out rates reported for junior high school students in Cambodia. It is even more heartbreaking when we know there is something we can do to save a child's future, but we don't do anything about it. At PEPY, we try our best to work with schools and communities to ensure children come to school and stay in school. To do this is easier said than done. Recently, two of our staff members Sarakk, our Supplemental Program Manager, and Vey, our Dream Manager, helped to make the impossible possible. Together with the cooperation of community members, they persuaded another child who had decided to give up schooling to come back to school and enjoy learning.
Let me explain the story a bit here. This child (let me be anonymous) was given a bike through our Bike-to-School program two years ago because his house is 3 or 4 kilometers from school. Before our intervention he was absent a lot – but the bike alone did not stop him from wanting to quit school.
When following up on his case, the school found out that the student decided to skip classes because he was too shy to participate. Why is that? As it turned out, he is a slow learner who needs a lot of attention and motivation to keep up with the majority of his class. In addition, while he didn’t receive enough attention at school, at home he could not reach out to anyone for help either. His father went to work illegally in Thailand and his mother didn’t have enough education to be able to help him and was also too busy working in the field to make ends meet. Thus, the student gradually became afraid of school, and eventually decided to drop out.
How did our staff address this kid's struggling relationship with education?
Sarakk and Vey went to the student's house and sat down with his mother and a few other neighbors from the community who believe in the benefits of education. They tried to find out the root cause of the problem. After the root cause was identified, they sat down with the kid to provide him with motivation and hope, and give him important advice about the usefulness of education. They then asked the mother and the neighbors to give their advice. After a long meeting, Sarakk and Vey managed to get the child to promise to everyone that he would go back to school and study harder. That was back in March, and he has been attending school regularly ever since.
The difficulty this kid faced is just one of the many similar stories that are commonly heard in communes like Chanleas Dai. Children do not have a safety net to depend on when they are in trouble. They don't have the motivation to continue to stay in school because they don't have anybody at home who can provide them with support. They want to gain a better future, but don't know how to get help. They want to further their education but their parents have no means to provide them with that. They are lost in the darkness which can only be lit up with proper education.
At PEPY, we want to see these children stand up for their future with support from their parents and their community. We strive to empower the community to take ownership to improve their schools and their communities by themselves. We have seen this in some areas where we work and are hoping to encourage this in more areas. Only when community members understand the importance of their involvement in making schools work will drop out rates in rural schools have the potential to decline.