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Diverse experiences on education shared at regional meeting

Education Officers in front of a school
© UNICEF Cambodia

CAMBODIA,  The minibus slows down and finally stops. The road is just too muddy to keep on driving. The rain caught Cambodia by surprise, as March  is still officially the dry season. Group of Education Project Officers (EPO), who attend the annual East Asia and Pacific Regional EPOs’ Meeting, don’t seem to mind the walk at all. The team continues its way to Vaing Khang Chenung primary school in Kampong Thom province with determination.

“Field trips are of course a very useful part of the meeting. Issues become more concrete than by just seeing presentations”, says Martijn Engels, Education Project Officer from UNICEF Yangoon, Myanmar.

Some 50 participants from 16 countries came for a whole week to Cambodia. Four groups visited UNICEF supported activities in three provinces, focusing on Educational Management Information System (EMIS) and local planning, Inclusive Education, Child Friendly Schools and Early Childhood Development.

This team visits rural Child Friendly Schools (CFS) supported by UNICEF. The CFS uses a holistic approach to child development and learning. This includes the enrolment by the age of six, enjoyable learning, healthy and clean schools, gender sensitive activities, involvement of families and communities and supporting the teachers.

The newly painted Vaing Khang Chenung primary school is on the shore of a small picturesque lake, fringed by palm trees. Inside the classrooms children are busy at work. The educational experts observe the classes and later discuss issues with school management and the community’s representatives.

“Field visit are very useful opportunities for us to discuss many issues with colleagues”, reminds Hoang Van Sit from UNICEF Banda Aceh office in Indonesia.

Different countries enrich the experience
It becomes evident that even though the participants come from the same region, the countries vary remarkably. So do approaches and initiatives, and it is evident that this variety adds great value to the meeting.

“Lao and Cambodia have similar country contexts so some activities we have seen here can be adapted to our programmes”, says Siamphone Buakhamvongsa from Vientiane, Lao.

Many problems, big and small, unite the professionals tackling the issues of promoting quality primary education for all children in their own countries. For instance the challenges in monitoring the schools and measuring the results of child friendly schools seem to raise a lot of discussion within the group.


A child friendly school in Cambodia
© UNICEF Cambodia

Well kept schools maintain motivation
In addition to exchanging views among UNICEF professionals, lots of questions and comments fly to the school management in all the schools visited. The school staff and community representatives answer patiently, telling more details of the good progress in drop out rates, excellent enrolment rates thanks to school mapping, girl counselling, hygiene education and so forth.

All three schools in the schedule were above average, the model schools of the province. “We could have also visited the schools which are not so perfect. It is good to keep a critical mind when reviewing our work and to remember the constraints as well”, comments Martijn Engels from UNICEF Myanmar.

In the last meeting in Kampong Thom province, Hoang Van Sit, UNICEF Indonesia, volunteered to address the Provincial Education Office working group:.

“We have been very happy to see smiling children and the success of the schools in your province. We have been impressed to witness the groupwork activities, girls-friendly environment, clean and functioning latrines, just to name a few. The teachers not only fulfil their traditional role as educators, but exceed it by promoting child participation, and showing exceptional commitment and support for children”.
Sou Kimtry, Director of the Provincial Office of Education, was grateful for the comments of the UNICEF team. “We are aware of the challenges in reaching our goals in CFS Initiative. We have chosen not to implement all the key components in all the target schools simultaneously, but to proceed gradually.”

How to work together as a region
The final two days in Siem Riep were as productive and lively as the field visits. Discussions focused on overview of regional education situation and on “who is doing what in education”. Recommendations on how we can work together as a region to move forward the agenda of life skills, early child development, child friendly schools and gender took centre stage in discussions and bilateral meetings.

Adding field trips to the usual schedule of lectures and presentations seemed to be appreciated by the participants. “It is always the best reminder to see and interact with the children – they are the cause we are all working for, " sums up Annette Nyquist, UNICEF Beijing.

The Regional Education Project Officers' Workshop was held in Cambodia from the 19th to 23rd March 2007.



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