Today was the last day of visits for team 1. It was also a day which many parts of Siem Reap, including all villages and district area, had a power outage problem from 9 to 5. Sadly, our computer training class for the students and staff had to be canceled.Instead, we conducted an impromptu class for the grade 5s in a village school.
This school was a fine display of some recurrent symptoms we have observed over the past days. Teachers were slack in their own discipline, failing to conduct classes in proper and appeared to be just trying to pass time. A child got injured on the head and the class teacher did not want to send the child home. There was also no first aid kit or support staff. Instead, the entire class was delayed as a few children were tasked to take care of the injured child. We noted no books or pencils, pens on the children’s tables though the school was in a fine physical shape. How have they been really studying?
By the end of the day, the team was troubled. We asked ourselves what exactly the fundamental problem behind the persistent poverty was. An underachieving culture? Unmotivated adults? Inadequate financials?
We noted how the adults failed to provide a supportive studying discipline. Though the electricity supply went down, the day was bright. Children not having morning classes were playing on the dirt roads. Mothers who do not go out to work just sat by the side idly. The library nearby lay in a partial state of reconstruction (flooring and leaf walls pending), awaiting people willing to use their free time to help in the rebuilding. There was actually a white board donated by a foreign organization and it hung in the library uncleaned. Why didn’t the children, old enough to be of useful household help, give a hand to reconstruct the library, clean the place or take advantage of the daylight to study?
Perhaps a reason is the lack of books. Again, we found it hard to validate this reason for the lack of engagement. During our trainings yesterday and today, we noted how the students do not have the habit of copying down notes. Instead, they were good at parroting without going through the process of understanding. For example, they do not understand why five multiplied by five should be twenty five. The lack of understanding meant that they could not remember what they had learnt after some time.
Human capital seems to be an issue. The lack of a achievement oriented system is another possible reason. Adults may actually do not understand that a quality education requires more than the mere act of sending children to the classroom. Teachers and teaching techniques are appalingly disastrous. The idea of Carpe Diem is bluntly non-existent.
If hardware infrastructure was the problem, money would have easily solved this issue.Of course, money could help to attract better teachers and therefore improve quality of education. Yet, money cannot change a culture. We learnt how a grandmother spent $4000 to build a concrete house in the village while her own daughter held a poverty ID. Power play, hierarchical structure and obsession with status and symbolism all play the perpetrator role.
Yet, we cannot lose hope. Among the rural villagers, there are people who put in the effort to attempt to get out of poverty. The younger children must be given the care and hope so that they can see possibilities. Improving basic living conditions such as toilets building help to make life less of a struggle and allow people the ability to focus on creating a better future. There are the inspired, engaged and bright students who are determined to continue studying while their peers are having babies. We want to help these rising stars and can only hope that they pay it forward. After all, we stand for a sustainable solution – “Khmer Akphiwat Khmer” Organization (KAKO means Cambodians help Cambodians).