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1 August 2022 - Story

Early Childhood Education and Care are vital for children at Preschool Level

Every morning at 6 am, a community preschool teacher, Heap Sonai, took her boat into Kampong Chamlang floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake to pick up small children whose parents could not send them to school.

The Kampong Chamlang community preschool, which hosts children aged 3 to 5, starts at 7 am until 10:30 am. The preschool is not a typical building but Ms. Sonai’s floating house, where she lives with her father in Phay Sanday commune, Kampong Thom’s Kampong Svay District.

Ms. Sonai was one of the five preschool teachers recruited in 2015 by the District of Education. Though they did not finish high school, they were equipped with child care skills and relevant training to perform the roles. However, preschool education was not common back then, and only Ms. Sonai continued the profession while others gave up.

“In those days, not many small children came to class because their parents did not want their small children to stay out of their sight, especially during the high-level water season. Only 5 and sometimes up to 10 showed up,” said 32-year-old Sonai.

Back then, Ms. Sonai taught only 6 months per academic year and received 50 US$ per month. She spent the remaining time fishing and serving as a seasonal worker to generate additional income. She was later offered to teach for 10 months and received 100 US$ per month for the 2022-2023 academic year.

With her outstanding performance and compassionate commitment, the Phat Sanday commune council, in January 2021, decided to allocate a small building inside the commune health care and named it Kampong Chamlang community preschool for Ms. Sonai to teach.

Ms. Sonai was continuously appointed to perform the roles up until Save the Children’s Generating Resilient Environments, and Promotion Socio Development of the East Tonle Sap Lack (GREEN) project funded by the EU was introduced in March 2021, allowing her to attend the 16 days training as well as additional support to keep the preschool attractive for small children and up to the technical standard.

Between May and June 2022, Norton Rose Fulbright completed the funding for the GREEN project and was introduced to the community to support all preschools in Phay Sanday commune to design and organize the monthly parental meetings and positive parenting sessions, aiming to engage parents in ensuring quality early childhood care development.

“I visited students’ families and talked with their parents. I explained to them the importance of education and how they can support small children to learn at home and what small children should do as good daily routines,” said Ms. Sonai, “I planted flowers around our preschool, set a teaching plan, and taught small children basic skills in life.”

Having attended the monthly parental meetings, Ms. Khon Khin, the mother of Ms. Sonai’s student, said she now spends more time teaching her daughter, Kim Horn, at home and has always encouraged her to go to school and learn as much as possible.

“I wish my daughter could pursue a higher degree like others and that one day, she could become a teacher. I do not want her to be an illiterate like me,” she said.

Phat Sanday commune chief, Mr. Heng Mono, believes that the education provided in the community preschool is vital for small children before they enter primary school, noting that the commune has allocated an amount of budget and effort to support preschool education, hoping to build more human resource for the community.

“We faced many challenges operating the community preschool. Many small children did not show up to school during the rainy season, and all preschools are not fully equipped with study materials,” he said.

Chour Chanthea, an officer of the Kampong Svay District of Education, noted behaviour changes in small children, parents, and teachers after the two projects had kickstarted.

“Preschool teachers now have clear teaching plans aligned with the national policy. Parents now send their children to school and have better interaction within the family. Small children are happy playing and studying at school,” Ms. Chanthea said.