Investing in Teacher Training for Children with Disabilities
Supporting Children With Disabilities
Siem Reap, August 2019 – Girls and boys living with disability are struggling to realise their potential in Cambodia. They face difficulties accessing inclusive and equitable education services and their participation in community life is limited. If they don’t drop out, they face poor quality learning environments and teachers poorly equipped to support their special needs.
A UNICEF project in Siem Reap has helped five teachers in Prasat Bakorng Primary School attend teacher training on Inclusive Early Childhood Education (IECE). Of their 125 students, including 61 girls, there are some children with physical and intellectual disabilities. The training has allowed them to better support and interact with these students.
Sort Pheap, a preschool teacher of children with physical and learning difficulties, says the training has had a significant impact on her teaching style and approach. “Before the training, I did not know how to identify children with disabilities. I saw every student in the same way. Even when I saw children wearing glasses, I did not think about what kind of support they needed. I did not know the problems they faced in the classroom,” Pheap explained. The training helped her recognize the characteristics of disabilities as well as methodologies to assist children with different needs in the classroom. “I began to find ways to manage an inclusive classroom and to communicate with parents more frequently for additional support at home,” says Pheap.
A six-year-old girl, Sambat, struggled with her sight difficulties in class before Pheap’s training. “At first, Sambat did not pay attention to learning activities. She tried to be alone and did not play with others,” explains Pheap. “I regularly brought pictures to show her and talk with her, encouraging her to join in with activities. I made sure she was close to me so that I could observe her well. This way she can touch the pictures I use and respond easily.“
Mel Sokleng, her 37-year-old mother, recognizes the change, “she knows how to sing and count numbers. She takes advice from the teacher and follows instructions. She likes to come to school and wants to meet the teacher and her friends. She does not want to miss the class.” Sokleng appreciates Pheap’s support for her daughter’s progress, “thanks to the teacher, my child can think more critically. I feel that the teacher has helped her a lot.” She also expressed her gratitude at her teacher’s advice, “the teacher told me to help my daughter study at home. Now, my daughter can tell me what the teacher says to her at preschool. She also asks me many questions.” Sokleng talks proudly about her daughter’s dream, “she says that she wants to become a teacher, so that she can support me as my family is poor. The teacher is her role model.”
Having capable teachers to support children with disabilities is crucial to help them reach their full potential. Research has shown that educational achievements are significantly lower for children with disabilities compared to their peers. Children with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be out of school (thirty per cent compared to sixteen per cent of children without a disability).
The school director, Aon Inn, is proud of the progress of his school teachers after the training. “Before, teachers didn’t pay attention to children with disabilities. With greater awareness, they began to change their attitude. They sit closer, speak slowly and talk more frequently with children who need special care.” The director holds teachers’ meetings three times a month to improve their knowledge. He is optimist that teachers can learn and cultivate ideas on how to pay attention to children with different types of disabilities.
“Teachers have started to plan their classes better, considering making a more engaging environment for children with disabilities. Children are making good progress,” says Aon Inn.
 MoEYS and Fast Track Initiative. 2011. Cambodia Childhood Out-of-School Survey, 2011.
The school is also supporting children with disabilities beyond the classroom. They are fighting the stigma and encouraging parents to allow their children to participate in society, free from discrimination. Besides promoting their school enrollment, they are co-operating with the Women’s and Children’s Consultative Committees (WCCC) to engage with children with disabilities in the community.
“Before, the community left their children at home if they had a disability. However, because of this supporting mechanism, more and more children with disabilities are enrolling in our school,” says Inn. The teacher training and the supporting mechanisms by the school and community, are making positive changes for children with disabilities and helping them reach their potential.