Preschools are critical components of early stimulation. Their presence fosters the creative, intellectual and social development of young minds and has both immediate and long-term impacts on health and productivity. However approximately 84% of Cambodian children under the age of six do not have access to early education - that's just under 10% of the country’s total population.
EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND DEVELOPMENT IN RATANAKIRI PROVINCE
In Ratanakiri province the situation is worse than the national average. In 2011 a baseline survey found that almost no children aged three to four, and less than one fifth of five to six year olds, were attending preschool. The areas also face extreme poverty, scarcity of resources and their populations are among the most marginalised in the country.
With funding from the European Commission and the support of Plan Belgium, Plan International Cambodia has been working to reduce this severe deficit in children's early stimulation, establishing preschools and core parenting groups. To date, one state preschool, 13 community preschools and two mobile preschools have been established, while 324 core parent groups have been formed.
Pakalan is one of the communes to have benefitted from the project. Three years ago, the commune didn't have a preschool - young children would either stay at home or go to the forests and rice fields with their parents. But with three newly constructed community preschools, around 60% of children are able to stay in village and enjoy the stimulation and learning environment it provides.
The ambition is to ensure all children in the area are able to attend the preschool, as commune leader Keng Ling explains. "I am working with the commune council members and core parents to map household of small children who are not going to preschool," he says. "I hope to talk to their parents to send those remaining small children to the preschools. Building their understanding is not easy. We have to work hard on it."
Children attending the preschool class can interact better with their friends and adults
Those children attending are already reaping the rewards, as teacher Toeng Kunthy points out. "Children attending the preschool class can interact better with their friends and adults. They can express themselves and know basic hygiene, they know basic traffic rules, they can hold a pencil and draw," she says. "The challenge remains with students who don’t speak the national language, but I hope after attending the multilingual teaching methodology training, I can overcome this."
25-year-old Rayou Mom, who has a six year old daughter, adds that the parenting groups provide a space for people like her to learn. As one of the projects core parent group leaders, she is able to use her new found knowledge to improve her daugthers development, as well as passing on her learning to others.
"I can share my good experiences to other parents in my groups," she says. "We talk about the care during pregnancy and during and after the delivery, including nutrition for both the mother and the child, as well as the importance of preschool for our kids.”
The project represents the next generation of programming, as it is the communities themeselves, and not Plan International Cambodia, who manage the preschools. The communities also share responsiblity for the establishment of the preschools, for example through the provision of land and labour for their construction, while the commune council manages their budget to cover the preschool teachers monthly wage of 40,000 Riels (about $10).
While capacity building and technical training at community level can represent a challenge, it is through the engagement and ownership of the communities that the project is poised to make a lasting change to the lives of Ratanakiri's children - and their communities.
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For more information about Plan International's work in Cambodia go to https://plan-international.org/cambodia.
For more information about the work of the European Commission's International Cooperation and Development Directorate General, please click here.