PSDP — PEPY’s New Approach

Posted on: October 23, 2009 Posted by: Manin Oem Comments: 0

PSDP — PEPY’s New Approach

In our current Team Journal series on Sustainability, we’ve talked a little bit about the history of PEPY’s work in Chanleas Dai, most of which has been at Chanleas Dai Primary School.   Since 2005
most of our programs have been at one school–focusing on 1)
providing supplementary classes outside the formal school system in
English, Khmer, Computers, and Environmental education; and 2)
providing training and teacher support.

 If you’re a Team Journal follower, you know that for several months now
we’ve been looking at alternative models for supporting government
schools, models that would help us reach our goals of working ourselves
out of the job and leaving behind a community empowered to demand and
provide the best education possible for their children.   In other
words, we have been searching for programs that would facilitate
much-needed improvements in the local school system while not depending
on PEPY being present in the schools long-term.  One of the programs
we’ve been learning about is the PSDP (Primary School Development
Program) model—developed by Schools for Children of Cambodia (SCC), a partner organization here in
Cambodia.  Over the school vacation, we hosted a three-week training in
PSDP and were highly impressed with the model and its ability to create
sustainable change.  Our team was sold, not only on the idea that this
was the change we needed to make in our programs in Chanleas Dai
Primary School, but also that it was a program we wanted to use to
expand our impact by working in other area schools.  After speaking
with district and provincial officials about the program, the team
began the groundwork for a selection process to begin a PSDP program in Chanleas Dai Commune.

PSDP is a long acronym for simple program, consisting of capacity building
and community organizing within and for government schools.  Instead of
a program that fills the gaps in government schools (i.e. providing
uniforms, books, trainings, buildings, and resources), the PSDP model
aims to facilitate community responsibility within and ownership over
schools, empowering community members and teachers to work towards solving the
schools’ problems.

There are a lot of fancy models, words, and diagrams that we could show  to
explain PSDP, but here are the basic ideas behind the program:

School Selection (Read: Finding schools where this will work)

Not every school is ideal for this kind of program, and in order to further
our impact it is important that the schools where we start are primed
for success.  That means choosing schools with strong leadership, an
involved village chief and community, and honest principals.  After
dozens of interviews with students, teachers, district officials,
community members, commune chiefs, and principals, we jumbled all our data into
Excel and came up with a list of  priority schools where we believe the
program can work.

Why not just start with the neediest schools?  Good question, and one we’ve
spent a lot of time discussing within our team.  One of the things that
we’ve learned the hard way here is that the only way we can be
successful at changing attitudes and actions related to education, health, or the environment is by making it personal and visible.  In other words, we can’t simply explain the value of education, (or hand-washing or water filter use) instead we have to show it by example.  This in turn encourages teachers, students, and communities to want the positive outcomes they have seen for
themselves.   If we begin in the neediest school, with unmotivated
teachers and an unengaged community, our job is immensely harder, as we
first have to facilitate motivation and desire for education.  It’s
possible, perhaps even likely that we would fail, or that improvements would take a significant period of time.
In order to prove to communities throughout the area that they have the
power to begin improving their local school system, we need to begin
with strong examples.

By beginning with “entrepreneurial schools,”
those with staff who are already going above and beyond the average and
a community that believes education is valuable, we increase the
likelihood of the program’s success.  And a successful program means
more schools will see that model, want it for themselves, believe in the possibility of improving their own schools and begin to do so. PSDP is currently based on a three-year model, where human resources are
developed, connections are made, and new ideas are implemented with the
help of a partner. The program is then
independently continued by the community and school administration.
Because of the self-sustaining nature of these programs, there is room
for us to move into new schools in the future.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (Read: Learning more about the issues)

Many aid organizations are familiar with the PRA techniques.  In some ways,
PRA is an overused acronym to describe anything meant to be
“participatory” that also allows organizations a means of finding out
information about a village.

In this case, it means gathering together groups of community members, students, parents,
and community elders over the course of a week or more for
meetings aimed at gathering information,
and beginning a process of community engagement in the program.  We
talk about the history of education in the village, what problems are
most pressing and what potential solutions people see, what sources of
income we have, perceptions of who “owns” the school and how community members
perceive the educational opportunities in the area.  We also talk to
students – using pictures and stories – to learn what their most
pressing needs are at school.

School Support Committee Creation (Read: Getting the right people in place to help)  

Community involvement in education is rare in rural Cambodia.  While each school
is meant to create a School Support Committee aimed at oversight and
giving community/parent input into education decisions, in reality
these committees (when they exist at all) are ineffective, with a
constantly changing membership and no real understanding of their
roles.  For example, schools get a budget each year ($1.25 per student)
to be spent on necessary expenses such as chalk, school improvements,
paper, etc.  The School Support Committee is meant to oversee these
expenditures, but without training they often don’t know that this is
part of their role and do not have a clear understanding of what the
rules are for these expenditures.  In the PSDP model, the goal is to
create a robust and engaged School Support Committee made up of
influential people in the village (identified by the PRA) who will
commit to participating for more than the typical one year term.  By
getting the right people involved, we begin moving towards more
community oversight and ownership.  The School Support Committee
receives training in Ministry policies, education law, Child Friendly
Schools, and community advocacy.

School Development Plan (Read: Solving Problems)

Teachers, administrators, parents, and the School Support Committee work together
to develop a three-year plan by identifying the most pressing problems
at their school, prioritizing two or three problems to tackle each
year, and potential solutions for each.  In Year 1,
for example, the group might decide to prioritize access to clean
water at the school, increased enrollment, and early childhood
education through a kindergarten program.  In Year 2, they might decide
to work on literacy levels and life skills training.  For each problem,
there are planning workshops around possible solutions, which all
include components of community involvement either through collections
or in-kind labor/resources.  The group decides their own solutions,
and while PEPY contributes funds for start-up costs or resources, the
goal is finding solutions that can continue through community and
school support and do not need continued outside funding to be
successful.

Prescriptive Standard Support (Read: Training, Training, and Training)

Sometimes it is hard to know what you need, particularly if you haven’t seen an
example of it before.  When we ask teachers and community members to identify
problems and solutions they often miss things they haven’t seen, like
first aid training, advocacy strategies for community leaders, critical
thinking workshops for students, and in-service training on new
Ministry of Education initiatives.  These trainings and more are
provided in addition to the School Development Plan workshops.  The
goal is to offer school directors, teachers, student leaders, parents,
and community members the tools they need both to put their School
Development Plan into action and to sustain the changes they have
helped to create long after PEPY leaves.

Three-Year Timeline (Read: Hold your breath, and wait)

The PSDP model is time-bound.  Three years isn’t set in stone; if schools
need more support there are options for small grants after three years,
or an additional year of support.  It’s hard to know what kind of
changes we can expect to remain after 5 months, 5 years, or even 10
years.  What looks good on paper isn’t always going to work in reality,
and we’re aware of that, especially since this model has not been
tested in this way before.  But we can’t help but be optimistic as we
know that the decisions we are making now – focusing on community
involvement and programs that might succeed without PEPY after three
years – have lead us to what we believe is better decision making.  Our
hope is that this program will provide the capacity building, community
involvement/accountability, and support necessary to have lasting
impacts in the primary schools we will be working in.

We will continue to post updates as the program develops.  To date, we have
selected two primary schools to work with so far, and hope to begin
soon at a third.  At the first school, Chanleas Dai, our current programs will be phasing out as PSDP begins. The second, Prasat Knar, is a nearby primary school where PEPY has
supported an environmental club and a classroom library.  We are
excited to be moving in this new direction, both at Chanleas Dai and in
Prasat Knar.