Phallon is the eldest of two children whose parents earn a meagre living by collecting non-timber forest products from the surrounding jungle. He is 12 years old, but he has always struggled to read and write due to an untreated visual impairment, and he quickly fell behind the other students in his class. He is now studying at Grade 3. Without access to opticians or glasses, he had assumed that he was not able to learn like other children.
Standing under the Cambodian flag pole of Peam Kay primary school, and proudly holding his bicycle, Phallon tells us about the challenges he has overcome to attend school.
“My eyes cannot see things clearly like the other children. I find it really difficult to learn in the class and at home. My learning outcomes were very poor and I found it really difficult to read or write like my friends in the class. I studied in Grade 2 for two years,” said Phallon sadly. “Although my mother has always pushed me to study at home, and she also teaches me almost every night, I can’t learn like others,” he continued.
Due to his visual impairment, and the fact that he is now several years behind his peers in terms of studying, Phallon was identified by Save the Children and its partner organzation, Opérations Enfants du Cambodge (OEC), as one of the most at-risk children in his village of dropping out of school altogether. The Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children project aims to help vulnerable children like Phallon access and retain in school through provision of scholarships, study materials and access to medical treatment. The project also creates supportive learning environments in schools through delivering training to teachers on inclusive education.
With support from this project, the Director of Phallon’s school was able to request medical treatment for Phallon and provide extra support to help him learn at school. “Before, Phallon found it really difficult to learn because his eyes cannot see things clearly,” explained Sokry, the Director of Peam Kay primary school. “His teacher approached me to make an intervention for him. Luckily, my school is one of the schools supported by Save the Children and OEC’s intervention, so I got help from OEC to request glasses for Phallon. We also provided him with a bicycle and study materials, because his family is poor as well.”
It has been a simple but highly effective intervention. “The glasses are not too expensive but they are really helpful for him to learn better,” said Sokry. “Right now, he is one of the smartest students in the class.”
Save the Children and OEC have also been working with Provincial and District Offices of Education to provide inclusive education training to all teachers in the target area. Teachers in Peam Kay primary school have received training to improve student learning outcomes and meet the learning needs of all children, including over-age students, children with special learning needs and children with disabilities. Teachers have received support on preparing lesson plans, positive discipline, producing teaching materials, and behavior management in the class. The project also works with School Support Committees, school directors, parents, and communities to support vulnerable children like Phallon to access education for the first time, and continue to come to school regularly, through provision of scholarships and study materials.
Save the Children and our partners also recognize the vital role that parents play in supporting their children’s education, as Phallon’s mother clearly demonstrates. “Although I don’t have much free time at home, I try to use my free time in the evening to teach my children reading and writing,” Phallon’s mother, Phally, told us. “Since he got his glasess, my son’s learning has improved a lot. He can read the Khmer alphabet and full texts, and his pronunciation is better than before. I really appreciate and thank Save the Children and OEC for supporting my son. Without the glasses, he wouldn’t be a good student. My family is too poor to buy them and they are really difficult to buy because we live so far from the town,” she explained.
“Glasses help me to see clearly and improve my learning outcomes. I have gone from being a slow learner to helping slow learners in my class and my village,” added Phallon with a smile. “I want to be a teacher to help my village access quality education.”