How positive discipline helps all children learn
Students facing educational challenges bloom thanks to Positive Discipline Programme developed by the Ministry of Education in partnership with UNICEF
Kampot Province, December 2022 - Pho Raty, 13, and her friend, Peng Khema, 10, are classmates and friends who recently started sixth grade together. For Raty, it is her first year in mainstream Cambodian education. Until 2018, she lived in Thailand with her migrant worker parents, but returned with her mother in 2018 at age 8. She then entered an accelerated learning class to enable her to resume her education at Angkor Chhum Primary School. The Accelerated Learning Programme in Cambodia is designed to help children who, for various reasons, have missed out on schooling.
Raty initially felt nervous about returning to school, and feared the classroom environment and her teachers. Fortunately, she was wrong and experienced a joyful return, largely thanks to her homeroom teacher and school principal, all of whom ensure they treat children respectfully and without using force to discipline students. These are skills they have learnt through training in the Positive Discipline Programme which was organised for teachers and principals across Kampot by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, in partnership with UNICEF and supported by SIDA, USAID, Primark and the Japan Committee for UNICEF.
The training helps educators prevent violence against children and promote positive discipline and effective classroom management. If Raty had started school at her late age and faced harsh discipline, it might have destroyed her confidence or even kept her out of school. Instead she is thriving.
“At the start, I could only read a little Thai…. I did not know how to read and write Khmer…” she says, smiling. “Now I am very happy as I can now read and write properly. I can join the mainstream class like my friends. I really love my teacher, she always helps me, explains and teaches gently so that I understand, and learn quickly,”.
Her friend, Khema, didn’t grow up overseas and lives with her family, but has also faced some challenges with learning since her earliest days in school. She has noticed and appreciated the difference in the teachers since they began implementing the Positive Discipline Programme. She loves to learn Khmer and social studies and is making excellent progress, which she attributes to her teacher and the safe environment at her school: “My teacher is kind, sweet and funny. She always explains lessons clearly, and she asks us all to applaud and praise students who have correct answers or behave well.”
Raty and Khema have never witnessed corporal punishment in their school. They do know, however, about good discipline, and how the school responds if rules are broken. The student might be asked to sit alone for a while at the Behavior Modification Table, or their name and misbehaviour recorded and placed in the Discipline Box at the front of the classroom. The Discipline Box is then opened at the end of each month by homeroom teacher and all students to recognise good behaviour and areas where improvement is needed.
“I used to be asked to sit at the Behavior Modification Table a long time ago because I did not pay much attention to the teacher. I played too much during lessons”, admits Chhin Sokhen, 12, now studying at Hunsen Noreay Primary School, Kampot province. Her classmate, Presh Sokly, 12, says that the methods work. “Everyone behaves nicely and respects teachers and classmates. We listen to our teachers so that we are good students.”
Much Chanthy, a grade 6 teacher at Angkor Chhum Primary School, remembers the positive discipline training well. She realised violence against children didn’t only mean physical punishment, but also verbal and mental abuse. She realised that she did sometimes use problematic methods such as shouting or embarrassing students in the classroom by making them stand on one leg. At the training she was glad to learn different approaches to using positive discipline for classroom management.
Chim Heng, also a teacher at Angkor Chhum Primary School says, “I learned more about personal anger management from the positive discipline training. Before, I did not know what to do when I am angry, and I punished my students,”. As a consequence, some students who received corporal punishment did not return to school or stopped studying. “The training taught me how to calm down, walking away, for example.”
Prak Toeun, School Director at Angkor Chhum Primary School explains that his school has implemented Positive Discipline Programme since 2018. As soon as he returned from the training, he developed the principles of positive discipline for the school, then in turn briefed the school management committee, parents, guardians, students, and other relevant stakeholders. In addition, each teacher has established the positive discipline principles for their own classroom in consultation with all students. He has noticed a much more positive school environment as a result. The number of absent students has reduced and attendance in each classroom has increased. Mr. Prak says, proudly, “Before many students dropped out by the time rice harvesting season came… now a drop out rate of 7 percent has reached 0 percent.”
The number of students enrolled in each year has also increased in primary schools that implement the Positive Discipline Programme. For instance, Angkor Chhum Primary School had only 494 students in 2018, but this has now risen to 575 students. Mr. Prak says “Nowadays students seem to love their classrooms and like coming to school more because it is positive and friendly.”
Moeun Thoeun, School Director, Hunsen Noreay Primary School, Chhouk District said, “Fewer students drop out of school, some students even have moved from private school and returned to public schools”. The positive discipline programme helps school gains good reputation with better performance. For example, both teachers and students respect school hours better. Mr. Thoeun explained, “Every classroom would start at 7 o’clock exactly and leave at 11 o’clock”.