By Amelia Taylor, Communications Coordinator, CARE Australia
Despite the deafening torrent of rain falling on the school house roof, Mr Sen commands the attention of his grade five class in the indigenous village of Lung Khung in Cambodia’s north eastern highlands.
The smartly dressed 22-year-old has been instrumental in bringing bilingual education to his hometown, where the native language is Tempeun and the majority of locals do not understand Khmer, Cambodia’s national language.
‘Before, we had a school house but no teachers came to teach here. So nobody could read or write. All the children worked on the farm,’ Mr Sen explains.
Placing a Khmer teacher in a Tempeun school house means that teachers and students are literally speaking different languages. It’s no wonder that the pre-existing school house had remained empty until CARE’s Highland Community Program came to the village to train local teachers and provide bilingual primary education for indigenous children.
Through the program, students start learning in the comforting familiarity of their native language, and Khmer is phased in over progressive year levels. By the time students enter Mr Sen’s grade five class, they are learning entirely in Khmer but are comforted by the fact that it is a local Tempeun teacher who is leading them.
Training local teachers like Mr Sen is a fundamental part of making the school friendly and accessible for the local community.
‘Local teachers have the connection with the student’s home and school; as a result there is good communication between the teacher and the students.
‘The teachers are likely to stay longer and it is easier for them to travel to school than someone who has moved from far away.’
He takes his responsibility seriously, and has been a vocal participant in village meetings about the development of the school and education for the children.
‘I have learnt about studying in my mother tongue and in the Khmer language as well as techniques for teaching. The Tempeun children cannot speak the Khmer language. But they can learn in Tempeun and then learn to read and write in the national language. It is very important for the Tempeun minority. When people go to a modern place, they may forget their language and their own village. But if they can read, write and speak in Tempeun it is very good for indigenous people.
‘Now they can write in Khmer and some children go on to secondary school which is a very big difference for them. I hope all children in my village finish the community school and go to high school. After that they can get a very good job.’