Supporting young students as they return to school

How new Home Learning Packages bridge the transition between home learning and full time education for grades 1 and 2 students

Jaime Gill
© UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
18 November 2021

6-year-old Lina Long Lyhour’s Khmer Language Workbook already looks well used, covered in fingerprint smudges and creases less than a week after he first got his hands on it. The Workbook was one component of the Home Learning Packages recently distributed to every grade 1 and grade 2 child in Cambodia. Lyhour’s mother, Sam Chanta, laughs from their home in Kampong Chhnang as she points out one ripped page she had to repair with tape: “you can see how much he loves it by the fact I am having to fix it already!” As she speaks, Lyhour recites the Khmer alphabet from the book, as if to prove his mother’s point.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
02 November 2021, Bunrany Hun Sen Romeas Primary School, Sre Tachey Commune, Teuk Thos District, Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. Portrait of Lina Long Lisa, 8, at home with her brother Lina Long Lyhour, 6, who has already learnt half the Khmer story book.

750,000 of these Home Learning Packages were distributed across the whole of Cambodia in October as a response to the disrupted education experienced by school children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Packages include study materials developed specifically with grade 1 and 2 children in mind, and designed so that they can be used in classrooms or the home. This makes them ideal for the current phased reopening of Cambodian schools, where many young students will be spending half of their study time at school and half at home. It also means that if any school does have to close temporarily because of a COVID outbreak, children will still be able to learn at home without dropping behind further.

The Packages were created by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and its Capacity Development Partnership Fund partners, the European Union, USAID, SIDA, Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and UNICEF. Their design was informed by research proving that grade 1 and 2 children found it particularly difficult to learn online, and that well-designed, child-friendly printed study materials were better at helping them catch up on the education they missed in classrooms.

“The Packages are a big help in helping students catch up,” confirms Chhem Thorn Sitha, who teaches at a nearby primary school. “When the Packages arrived we met with all parents for an orientation meeting to show them how to use the study materials, and everyone agreed that they would be valuable. With these Home Learning Packages, and the fact that schools are opening again, I now feel much more hopeful. We can use these books but also, when we see our students in classrooms, we can check on how much they really are learning and what their needs are. That’s the best way to help them catch up.”

© UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
UNICEF Cambodia/2021/Antoine Raab
02 November 2021, Bunrany Hun Sen Romeas Primary School, Sre Tachey Commune, Teuk Thos District, Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. Portrait of Chhem Torn Sitha, female teacher, who worked hard throughout the pandemic to keep her children educated, even setting up Facebook Messenger groups to reach students who had moved with their families to Phnom Penh.

Sitha’s school, Bunrany Hun Sen Romeas Primary School in Kampong Chnnang’s Teuk Thos District, is currently operating on a 50% capacity basis, so that children go to half the lessons they would have pre-COVID. The Home Learning Packages can provide extra support when students are at home. The School Director, Sok Veng, confirms that the new study materials in the Packages will be an important tool in his efforts to make sure all children catch up and resume their education successfully. “The children were interested in them as soon as they saw them. They started reading them straight away, they didn’t need to be told to. The design is much more modern and attractive than our old textbooks, and that stimulates the children. I would love to see the older children get really good content like this, too.”

Mrs. Sam is a parent at his school and agrees on the instant impact of the Home Learning Packages. “The truth is that it’s really hard just to teach children through television or a smartphone, especially for younger ones. These books are useful and beautiful.”

Mrs. Sam also appreciates the bar of soap and family-friendly guidance on how to take precautions against COVID that were included in all the Packages. “I can teach them and check they are washing their hands when they are at home with me, but the the guidelines can help them to remember how to stay safe even when they leave the house and go into school.”

Her daughter, Lina Long Lisa, is looking forward to putting all the lessons into action when she gets back to the classroom. She says, quietly, that she felt unhappy during the pandemic. “I like to read, and I am trying really hard to write well. I am looking forward to learning how to write my numbers and letters better.” She has already used the Home Learning Package study materials with her teacher and her mother, and found them helpful in both cases.

While the Home Learning Packages could never replace the power of face-to-face education for eager pupils like Lisa, they have been designed to make the transition back into classrooms easier. By helping children catch up with their education and reducing the risk of further disruptive outbreaks, they will lead the way back to full-time education for all Cambodian children.