Visit to the PEPY Ride School
By Michael Woodard
Is it peculiar to feel nostalgic about dirt, potholes, and bumpy roads? Perhaps, but this past weekend, as I was jostled about in the back of a pick-up with the PEPY team while traveling to the PEPY Ride School, waves of similar Peace Corps memories enveloped me, just like the billowing dust clouds churned up by the big trucks and pig-carrying motos. Despite the choking dust, there was something refreshing about riding in the open air on our way to Chanleas Dai. After several weeks in the office, the opportunity to visit PRS and meet the students and teachers felt like opening a new phase of my PEPY experience in Cambodia. Finally, away from my desk and addictive email and iTunes, I was immersed in the development world again, not just at the policy making level, but on the ground where the real action takes place — bumps, dust and all. Following is an account of our recent visit to the school.
The PEPY team was invited to attend the opening ceremony of PRS for the new school year. In addition, PEPY took the opportunity to deliver new water filters to the school, as well as introduce a prospective incentive program to the PRS teachers. On Monday morning, students came rolling in through the PRS gate on their bicycles, most looking eager about the return to classes. Before the ceremony, a few dozen were brave enough to join me in some stretching and jumping jacks in the schoolyard, and much to my delight, several even had the gumption to practice some English.
After all the students had gathered in front of the school, the ceremony began with welcome speeches by the principal and several teachers. PEPY Educational Program Director Vuthy Va also spoke to the student body, stressing the importance of strengthening the quality of education. He noted that while investment in educational resources in Cambodia is increasing, student achievement continues to be low. PEPY recognizes that while previous efforts have focused on increasing access to education, it is also necessary to improve the quality of educational programs. In his address, Vuthy communicated PEPY’s hopes to not only improve its existing programs this year, but also introduce new ones.
Following the ceremony, teachers organized the students by grade and took attendance. PEPY team members were surprised to learn that 100% of last year’s graduated 6th graders from PRS, have enrolled in the 7th grade. In a country where a mere 25% of those graduating primary school continue on to secondary school, this came as very happy news. While PEPY realizes that many will not be able to complete their secondary education, we are thrilled that so many students have made at least an initial commitment to do so.
After the students had gone home, the PEPY team gathered with the PRS faculty in one of the classrooms. With the help of PEPY’s English and Computer teacher Tolours, PEPY delivered 10 water filters to be placed in each of the classrooms, and instructed the teachers how to use and maintain them. The filters will not only provide clean water to all the students, but also hopefully will be a tool to teach the importance of drinking safe water each day.
Last but certainly not least, PEPY interim Executive Director Maryann and Vuthy explained to the faculty the basics of a teacher bonus program. Maryann noted that no matter how many programs PEPY starts, real educational improvement must begin with the teachers. In an educational system where teachers receive an average of $30 per month and more than half have no more than a 9th grade education, it is easy to see that motivating teachers can be a daunting task. For financial reasons, teachers are often not able to complete their school duties. Some must take on other jobs to augment their income while others have obligations to assist with family farms. PEPY wishes to implement a financial incentive program that will motivate teachers to complete their responsibilities. The goals of this program are to improve teacher attendance and their effectiveness in the classroom. Teachers would be rewarded for consistently teaching the required lessons and participating in all school activities, as well as for following curriculums mandated by the Ministry of Education, and recording all classroom activities. PEPY plans to implement the program over the course of the next several months. In the future, PEPY hopes that the program would be able to provide access to teacher training programs as well.
We left the school with just a touch of sadness, for our visit was much too short. I don’t think I was the only team member who couldn’t get enough of the students’ smiles. The entire PEPY team is enthusiastic about what promises to be an exciting school year full of challenges and progress.