PEPY’s Primary School Development Program has been busy the past few months, moving forward both with our Standard Support for teachers and School Support Committees and also working with Chanleas Dai and Prasat Knar as they move ahead with their School Development Plans. (Haven’t heard about PSDP? Find out more here!)
What have the Schools Been Doing?
Fundraising, building, planting, creating, and learning! At both schools we’ve seen a great deal of momentum as School Support Committees (SSC’s) begin to execute the plans they created in January. At Chanleas Dai, community members constructed two shady learning huts on the school grounds, giving students a quiet place to read or study during breaks or outside of their school shift time. All the materials and labor came from the community. Our only contribution was taking pictures!
Chanleas Dai’s team has also been busy making teaching and learning resources. Over the past two months, teacher team leaders have led their school in making effective learning resources using minimal materials. The school fundraised over half of the budget for the resource-making workshops.
Most recently, the team has been learning how to grow mushrooms, — the beginnings of what they hope will be a life skills program for students that offers agricultural knowledge and income-generating ideas. The community leaders are just testing the waters now, planning their first crop of mushrooms obtained through the Royal University of Agricultural in Phnom Penh. In a few weeks we should have a taste for how viable the program is. In the meantime, curious students and community members are coming to peer through the palm huts where the mushrooms have been planted.
The creation of School Development Plan seems to be acting as a catalyst for additional ideas and action as well. Though not a part of the formal “plan,” teachers and school administrators have recently started two new programs at their school, one aimed to elicit more parental involvement in education and the other focused on helping poor students. Both of these programs came about without any PEPY input or assistance, highlighting momentum and initiative by teachers which that is exciting for us to see!
In March the school invited 10 parents to observe the classes of their students, giving feedback on their experience and sharing what they’ve seen with other parents. The school director plans to keep inviting groups of parents throughout the year, thereby encouraging parent engagement in students’ education. Though it’s a small step, it’s the first time we’ve seen a school actively engaging parents in this way. Parent-teacher meetings are rare here, and many parents have never set foot in their children’s classrooms. The school director expects to see changes in student interest and progress in their studies as parents become more active in the school. We hope he’s right, and are excited to see this begin in Chanleas Dai.
Teachers also started a program last month encouraging wealthy students to help their younger peers by giving small donations of 100 riel each (just over two US cents) in a collection box placed in the library. Though no one in Chanleas Dai is considered wealthy by Western standards, there are houses with a bit to spare, and teachers are capitalizing on the concepts of peer assistance and community support to encourage students with a bit of pocket money to donate specifically to help their more needy peers. In the past two months the school has collected over 16 dollars — enough to purchase school materials such as notebooks and pens for the most impoverished students.
These kinds of changes are exactly what we hope PSDP inspires — community-led solutions to school problems. As we see more of these exciting changes, we’ll keep you posted!
PSDP is also moving forward in our second partner school, Prasat Knar. The SSC has been moving slower here, as their principal is nearing retirement and transitioning many tasks onto the vice principal’s shoulders. Prasat Knar also starts from a different place. Where Chanleas Dai teachers and students have had 5 years of investment from PEPY and our staff, this is the first year that any non-profit has been working directly with Prasat Knar. In some ways working with teachers and community members here reminds me of our first years at Chanleas Dai, when the biggest barrier to change was schools and teachers being able to visualize and articulate their goals.
Nonetheless, the School Support Committee has gathered a great deal of momentum and has made significant progress towards their goals. After a fundraising campaign in the two main villages nearby, the SSC raised over 200 dollars to dig out a school pond, providing a much needed water source for toilets and drinking water. Though PEPY contributed a portion as well, over 70% of the funding came from the community. In a place where most families are living on less than a dollar a day, this is a tremendous achievement.
The SSC has also been meeting regularly to brainstorm ways to sustain a community librarian, and is writing requests to the District and Provincial offices of education to see if there is any potential for government support. We’re looking forward to bringing a school-based library to Prasat Knar once the community has ensured a means of supporting a volunteer or salaried librarian!
What’s PEPY Been Doing?
Alongside the School Development Plan which is implemented by teachers, School Support Committees and community members, PEPY is also doing our part to contribute at Chanleas Dai and Prasat Knar. In the past two months we’ve held trainings on first aid for teachers and students, distributed new uniforms at both schools to all students, and arranged a learning field trip to a government-run model school. Next month we’re focused on director training, women’s health seminars, and providing classroom resources coupled with teacher training on resource use. Stay tuned to our team journal for more updates!