|© UNICEF video|
|Nita, 5, joins her friends at the Banteay Kraing Village community pre-school, which is helping Cambodian children enrol in primary school at the appropriate age.|
By Guy Degen
SVAY RIENG PROVINCE, Cambodia, 11 May 2007 – Every weekday morning, Nita, 5, joins her friends at the Banteay Kraing Village community pre-school. Small sandals and shoes are neatly lined up in a row outside the wooden shelter that houses the school.
Inside, the walls are adorned with bright watercolour paintings. A local volunteer teacher asks the class to name animals drawn on a whiteboard.
For children such as Nita, these simple and stimulating activities are not only fun but essential for early childhood education, helping to ensure that they will enter primary school at the appropriate age. Yet only 14 per cent of all three- to five-year-old children in Cambodia are enrolled in pre-schools – most of them in affluent urban areas.
A safe learning environment
UNICEF’s child rights programme in Cambodia, known as ‘Seth Koma’ in the Khmer language, is working with rural communities to build pre-schools that provide children with a safe learning environment, including access to clean water and latrines.
Local commune councils select the land and UNICEF supports them with funds for constructing pre-school shelters, playgrounds, wells and latrines, as well as providing basic school supplies. UNICEF also helps train volunteer teachers in nutrition, health, hygiene and early childhood development, and provides them with a small incentive payment for their efforts.
In the past year, UNICEF has assisted about 900 pre-schools in six rural provinces, helping to bring early education to some 20,000 children.
|© UNICEF video|
|The Banteay Kraing Village community pre-school, which is supported by UNICEF's child rights programme in Cambodia.|
Preparation for formal schooling
“Currently the Cambodian Government doesn’t have the necessary funds to provide early childhood education to all Cambodian children, especially in the rural areas,” says UNICEF’s Seth Koma Programme Officer, Tessa Rintala.
As a result, she adds, there are problems with children enrolling in school at a later age, dropping out or repeating classes.
“UNICEF believes that community pre-school education actually better prepares children for formal schooling and aids them to be more socialized and adjusted for school life,” notes Ms. Rintala.
‘The education she needs’
A two-hour pre-school class provides Nita with a positive daily routine. Her parents are divorced and her mother lives in Phnom Penh, where she works in a garment factory. Nita and her elder sister live with their grandmother and a young cousin.
Nita’s grandmother believes pre-school is giving Nita a head start in life, explaining: “Without her father she is much more vulnerable. Community pre-school gives her the education she needs.”
Nita says she is looking forward to going to primary school next year when she turns six. Having attended community pre-school since she was three, Nita will be on track to enrol at her local primary school with her friends at the right age.