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Difficulty Remembering New Things: Sreyneang' Story
Tha Sreyneang, nine years old, smiles at us from her bicycle as she slowly passes on her ride to school – a four-kilometer journey. Sreyneang is in second grade at Kaoh Voat primary school, but at nine years old, Sreyneang is older than most of the other students in second grade. Sreyneang’s parents did not enrol her in school when she was the appropriate age, mostly because they did not have time to take her. She only started to attend first grade when she was eight years old and able to travel to school by herself.
Sreyneang is the eldest of four children, and lives with her siblings and parents in Bakan district, Pursat Province. Sreyneang’s father works as a tractor driver to earn income to support the family. Her mother works at home taking care of the house, chores, and the young children. Sreyneang lends support to her family by helping to take care of her younger siblings, and helping with housework such as cooking and cleaning. One of Sreyneang’s siblings has started attending pre-school; the other two spend days with their mother, as they are still quite young.
Although Sreyneang was late to enrol in school, her parents hope that a proper education will benefit their children. Sreyneang’s mother explained, “My husband and I cannot help our children [learn] to read and write, because we ourselves also cannot read and write. We want all our children to learn and have a better future – we do not want them to fall into our way.”
However, going to school and catching up on her studies has not been easy for Sreyneang. She likes attending school, but it has been a challenge because Sreyneang has a learning disability. Children like Sreyneang who have learning disabilities often struggle to get the support they need in rural Cambodian schools because teachers, parents, schools and communities often lack the skills, understanding and resources to support students with special needs. A lack of understanding is suggested when Sreyneang’s mother describes her daughter’s learning disability, “My child has difficulty remembering new things; we need to tell her [things] repeatedly,” she says.
At first, Sreyneang’s learning disability and lack of confidence prevented her from fully participating in school and interacting with her classmates when she began attending school. “In the past, I was not brave enough to play and join in any activities with my classmates because I am older than my classmates and my studies were not good,” Sreyneang explained. Sreyneang’s teacher also confirmed that Sreyneang had trouble following instructions and participating in class when she first started school.
Save the Children and local partner Buddhism for Social Development Action have been supporting teacher development at Kaoh Voat Primary School since 2015 by providing training, support and demonstrations to teachers, school directors and local education authorities on techniques for teaching in inclusive classrooms and how to support children with learning disabilities. This has included positive discipline practices, classroom and behaviour management, and developing effective lessons and teaching plans.
“Sreyneang could not read or write the Khmer consonants and vowels,” said Mr. Khat Virak, second grade teacher. “Before, I did not know how to support and teach Sreyneang. [So] I just used my previous [methodology]. Once I attended the various trainings from the project … [I learned about teaching] Khmer language for grades one to three, and inclusive education including methods of how to support children with learning disabilities. Then, I applied that new knowledge and methodology to support her. Now she has really improved, she can write and read some words,” he added.
“I can read and write,” Sreyneang said proudly. “My teacher has lots of games, pictures and materials to teach. I like studying with him,” she said. “My classroom is very clean and has many games and materials, I like reading at school. I love my school and my class.”
Sreyneang’s mother is also pleased with her daughter’s progress, “I am happy to see my daughter’s improvement, she can read and write. [And] I have asked her cousin to help her with homework,” she added.
When we ask Sreyneang what she wants to be when she grows up, she happily replies, “I want to be a teacher. I want to share my knowledge to others.”