In Cambodia, children with disabilities often face major barriers to accessing education. This can be because schools lack the expertise to teach them, their disability stops them physically getting to school or they lack parental support or resources like study materials. Save the Children, in cooperation with the local organization Opérations Enfants du Cambodge (OEC), have been working closely with Provincial Offices of Education (POE), District Offices of Education (DOE), School Directors and local authorities to address these issues.
When we arrive to talk to him, Dara, 12 years old, is reading a book with his younger sister on the front step of their house. Dara is studying in Grade 2 at Chroy Svay primary school in Koh Kong province, about 145 kilometers from Koh Kong provincial town. He was born with a physical disability and finds it difficult to walk, but he is as clever as everyone else. “I love reading so much. I read a lesson from school with my younger sister almost every evening,” said Dara, smiling. “In my class, I sometimes teach my friends reading and do exercises when my teacher is absent or she has an urgent task to do outside,” he continues.
“My son could not walk until he was nine years old. He has difficulty walking to school. I did not allow him to go to school alone, we waited until my second daughter was old enough to go to school then I allowed both of them go to school together, to look after each other,” said Ngvai Tourt, Dara’s mother. “He is so clever. He teaches his friends and his younger sister at home in the afternoon or evening. I can’t teach him because I never went to school when I was young.”
The Director of Chroy Svay primary school, Mr. Ren Habb, notes that material support, in the form of scholarships and school supplies, is an important boost for vulnerable children who might otherwise not attend school.
“My school is one of the target schools of the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children intervention implemented by Save the Children in cooperation with OEC. I had an opportunity to request a scholarship for the most vulnerable children in my school. Dara is one of the students who received a scholarship from the project. He is really clever; although he has difficulty walking, his learning outcomes are very good. He helps his teacher to control the classroom and teaches friends reading when his teacher is busy or comes to school late,” said Habb. “Before, Dara came to school irregularly, but after he received a scholarship, he started coming to school regularly and his reading and maths is better than the other students in his class,” he continued, smiling.
Save the Children has been working closely with OEC, Provincial Offices of Education (POE), and District Offices of Education (DOE) to provide inclusive education training to all teachers in the target area. Teachers have learned about inclusive education, positive discipline, producing teaching materials, behavior management in the class, and responding to the learning needs of all children, including over-age children and those with learning impairments or physical disabilities. At the same time, we have worked with School Support Committees (SSCs), parents and School Directors to support the most vulnerable children to access school regularly by providing scholarships and study materials.
“Although I have difficulty in walking, it is not a challenge to my studying. I can learn faster than my friends in the class. I want to be a singer, to tell people in my country that people with disabilities can do everything that others can,” Dara said with hopeful confidence.