Friday 21 December 2007

Volunteering at Preychrouk School

We were lucky enough to spend a day volunteering at Prechrouk School while we were in Cambodia. Normally volunteers would spend at least two weeks teaching at the school but the Sage Foundation kindly let us volunteer for only a day as one of the Cambodian teachers, Vanak, was happy to have us help him teach English to the Year 8's and 9's.

Teaching at Preychrouk SchoolKids of Preychrouk School

The school is about an hours drive West of Siem Reap in a rural area not visited by tourists. The road isn't completely paved and the school has no water or electricity. There's no playing field or playground equipment. There's just two buildings: one for the primary school and one for the secondary school. They just have rooms, desks, chairs and blackboards and not much else for 700 students. They study subjects like math, english, khymer, geography, history and the sciences sharing the school between two shifts each day. Half the students study in the morning and half study in the afternoon. There's no fluffy subjects like art and music. There's no sports. There's no clubs.

We spent half a day getting an orientation of the school before the day volunteering. I was pleased to find that the Cambodian branch of Room to Read had provided the school with a library and a basic collection of school books. It's a charity we've donated to in the past. However, for the entire school, we discovered that they only had two dictionaries. That evening, we bought the school six more dictionaries but clearly they're desperately short of resources of every kind.

Vanak teaches 8 classes back to back. We missed the very first one since it started at 7am but we joined him for the other 7 working on the verb "to be" with his students. The class sizes weren't too bad and tended to range from twenty to forty students. The students were great. They're very well behaved, respectful and keen to learn. As in other countries, the really enthusiastic one's tend to sit in the front while some of the more reluctant students sit in the back. It seemed to me that the reluctant one's were just the students having a hard time keeping up with the pace of the class.

Vanak is an excellent teacher and clearly has a lot of fun with his classes. He's keen to be a better teacher but has no resources to help him learn. Cambodia needs a lot more teachers like Vanak but they're in very short supply. Many parts of Cambodia only have schools up to the primary level or none at all. Even if there is a school, it's a challenge to get the parents to consistently send their children to school as an education isn't valued. The children are needed to help with the farming work or sell souveniers to tourists. Ironically, the kids selling souveniers generally have very good language skills that will serve them well to get jobs in the tourism industry when they grow older.

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