How Local Life Skills helped student win national debate contest
The Local Life Skills Programme introduced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNICEF helps public school students achieve excellence
"The Local Life Skills programme became our superpower in winning the debates," says Choeurm Sreychen, an 12th-grade student of the Hun Sen Prasat Bakong High School in Siem Reap, who recently won the National Debate Competition together with teammates Thun Dany and Loh Lin.
The National Debate Competition is a prestigious annual contest organized by the Ministry of Sport Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) across every province in Cambodia. The teams are judged on organization and clarity, public speaking, use of argument, and use of rebuttal and presentation style.
Meeting Sreychen, it’s not hard to see why she would win. She’s a confident, mindful, and determined young woman who hopes to positively influence Cambodia, especially on issues of climate change and education of girls in rural areas of the country. "Unfortunately, I see a lot of families in my village where girls are not encouraged to go to school but get married instead. It makes me sad, and I hope one day I will be able to change the mindset of people in my village and country," says Sreychen. Sreychen hopes that her professional life will help her to support students like her to succeed in the future. "I’d love to help build roads in my village that will connect schools with isolated houses where many children are missing out on secondary education," she says. She is a graduate of the Hun Sen Roluos Secondary School, one of 185 schools across Cambodia where the local life skills programme is successfully implemented.
The Local Life Skills programme was first introduced to Cambodia in 2006, although it faced some challenges, such as a lack of teachers and resources, as well as community engagement. It was introduced because there was a widely understood of need to support more children through problem-based learning, encouraging students to develop reflection and critical thinking skills instead of applying rote learning. In 2016, MoEYS, with support from UNICEF, developed an improved Local Life Skills syllabus and materials for pilot implementation in Takeo, Siem Reap and Stung Treng provinces. The programme educates students on a number of important issues, such as climate change, drug abuse, road accident, primary health care, personal hygiene, domestic violence and drugs, while helping students increase their soft skills, confidence, leadership and learn to understand and overcome challenges and risks in their lives.
However, in the first years of implementing the Local Life Skills programme there was limited understanding of how to run local life skills, and teachers were facing some challenges. Tan Kanha is a teacher of Mathematics who also teaches Local Life Skills at Hun Sen Roluos Secondary School. "At first, I thought the programme was all about planting trees and vegetables,” she says. However, a series of in-depth training sessions organized by MoEYS and UNICEF helped her and other teachers and directors to understand the programme, design the school's schedule, and draft lesson plans. "Now, I know and enjoy teaching life skills.” Ms. Tan is now a flagbearer who supports other nearby schools to implement the Local Life Skills programme by building their practical understanding and experience.
Sreychen's participation in the programme has equipped her with several important soft skills such as creativity, critical thinking, self-management, negotiation, respect for diversity and empathy while encouraging her to believe in her dreams, improving her decision-making, and supporting her as she's become a role model for positive change within her community.
"Before attending the programme, I always used to hold onto my own opinion without listening to others. However, Local Life Skills helped me to consider the points of view of others for better solutions," she says. "Thanks to it I can still express my opinion, but also create open and critical discussion with my collaborators and find common ground."
An increasingly important part of the Local Life Skills programme centres on educating students and teachers about climate change and improving the participation of student councils in responding to it by raising awareness among students, community members and advocating local government to adapt and/or mitigate its impact. With technical assistance from UNICEF, lesson plans and study materials on climate change have been drafted for primary and secondary schools and are now being adapted by MoEYS.
"My favorite part of the Life Skills Programme is learning about climate change," says Loh Lin, graduate students of Hun Sen Roluos Secondary School and a teammate of Sreychen in the National Debate Competition.
"For me, the most memorable experience was when we were reaching out to local communities with informative messages on plastic usage. Together with my classmates, we organized an information sharing session in the local market."
"The Local Life Skills programme is a sustainable investment in the children of Cambodia,” says a proud Mey Roeurm, the principal of the Hun Sen Roluos Secondary School.
“We saw the first results of this investment in the victory of our team in the National Debate Competition. The programme provides an opportunity for students to develop their research, critical thinking, and information literacy skills, as well as their ability to work as a team to present logical arguments."
"I remember that everyone in our province, including district government authorities, watched the live stream of debates on Facebook as if it was a football match,” says Tan Vicheka Raingsey, the head of the secondary education office of the Provincial Office of Education in Siem Reap.
"We were deeply inspired by Serychen’s team and their victory.”
UNICEF together with MoEYS will continue working with provinces, districts and schools to strengthen and expand the local life skills education, through school-to-school and province-to-province partnerships. UNICEF Cambodia would like to thank SIDA, SDC and the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) for their generous support for this programme.