Supporting education even as schools are closed again
How UNICEF and partners are working to support schools, teachers and students as Cambodia continues to reel from the pandemic
Siem Reap, February 2021 - The global pandemic has closed all schools in Cambodia twice, affecting over three million children and threatening to roll back years of progress. Giving children alternative ways to learn and rebuild a routine has been a critical part of UNICEF’s response, as has supporting schools to create safe environments for when children have been able to return. To give school directors and teachers guidance and practical tips on how to conduct teaching and learning during COVID, Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and UNICEF developed a Safe Operation of Schools in the Context of COVID-19 handbook.
“The booklet has very clear instructions on how to operate a school during the pandemic,” said Mr. Proeun Pronh, school director of Aranhraingsei secondary school in Siem Reap. “After studying the booklet, we decided to prepare more handwashing areas, make sure that all toilets are operational, and prepare first aid kids and disinfection materials. We also set up a committee to perform different tasks such as doing temperature checks at the school entrance, disinfecting classrooms on a daily basis, and monitoring mask wearing and social distancing in the school premises.
The handbook was distributed to all 13,000 schools and 3,000 community pre-schools in Cambodia. It not only incorporates information on COVID-19, but also focuses on health and safety, learning and teaching, inclusiveness, and wellbeing and protection of children. These are all principles that should be carefully considered during school reopening and in situations where school are issued to reclose again.
The handbook was not the only practical measure MoEYS, UNICEF and partners put together to help teachers and school directors create safe and supported learning environments across the country. Funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) enabled all primary and lower secondary schools in rural and urban areas to receive a block grant to support their operations in this challenging and unpredictable environment.
“This fund has contributed enormously to the school’s operation during the pandemic,” said Mr. Proeun Pronh, pointing out the ways in which the funding helped when schools where able to open. “First, the school has more hygiene supplies which means that students can wash their hands regularly and we can disinfect classrooms frequently, at least twice a day. Secondly, the funding allowed the school to buy an extra reserve of masks which we were able to give to teachers and disadvantaged students who cannot afford to buy them.”
However, the funding is just as crucial now that schools are closed again. “The money enables the school to photocopy handouts, assignments, and worksheets for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not have smartphones. This support was very timely.”
Ms. Nhuon Sopheap is a grade 7 teacher at Aranhraingsei school. She explained how she supports her students to study and learn now that schools have closed again: “Currently I teach my students online through Telegram and Messenger groups. I share links to MoEYS online learning videos on YouTube, and summarise the lessons or exercises, which I share in the online learning groups. After my students send their homework in the group, I mark them, share the right answers and give feedback to them.”
Chheang Sopheak is a grade 9 student at Aranhraingsei. She said, “We all received online learning schedule from our teachers last week, and we start learning from home this week. My Maths, English, Chemistry and Physics teachers send us lessons through Telegram and then they explain the lessons through Zoom.”
This is not the first time that Sopheak has had to learn from a distance, as schools were closed for six months in 2020, but the restrictions are greater in 2021. “Last year we had a small learning group which was supported by our teachers. This year, however, we’ve not been able to do this due to the increased severity of the pandemic. So we collaborate with our friends to do the assignments and send back to teachers through the online groups”.
Chheang Sopheak reflected on the current COVID-19 situation, “I don’t think that school is a safe place now that the virus is spreading in the community but I am afraid closures will affect our learning and that I will fail my grade 9 exams this year. I am, however, glad that our teachers taught all the students how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and what to do if we suspect we have caught the virus. My teachers also pay special attention to students who previously failed the exam and even to students who left the learning group. I am trying my best to invite our friends back to the group online.”
UNICEF is committed to continuing to help schools like Aranhraingsei teachers like Nhuon Sopheap and students like Chheang Sopheak. All of them are determined to keep education alive, and deserve the support they need to do so.
Practical support to all Cambodian schools, including school block grants, communication assets through a nationwide back to school campaign, and a handbook on the Safe Operation of Schools in the Context of COVID-19 are being delivered through Cambodia’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts with funding assistance from GPE. UNICEF is the Grant Agent for this $7 million programme, which is delivering emergency support to schools and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.