Children from ethnic minorities are often concentrated in remote locations. In Tbong Khmum, for example, there is a high concentration of Cham Muslim children. This is where Nasit Nasifas started her first job last year as a bilingual teacher’s assistant at Trea 4 village primary school.
Her role is crucial in supporting the Cham community to overcome the barrier of language and to ensure all children have a chance to learn and integrate into Cambodian society. “I explain in Cham the teacher’s Khmer explanation and help children to write in Khmer,” she explains.
The language and cultural barriers in addition to poverty are all impeding factors on schooling for ethnic minority children Indeed, children who attend school in an unfamiliar language and culture are less likely to succeed their studies. They will also struggle more to access education and stay in school. This results in low educational attainment and high dropout rates.
Integrating minorities through language learning
“We live in a country where the majority speaks Khmer and I think it is vital to learn this language” says Nasifas. “If we learn both languages, we will have more opportunities to get a job in the future. I really love my job because I can help my community to understand the Khmer language and culture. Through teaching, I can promote mutual understanding.”
As a Cham person herself, Nasifas tells about the peaceful atmosphere between communities. “I have always been surrounded by Cham and Khmer people. Between us, there is no discrimination and good interactions. Mutual understanding goes both ways. Khmer people are also interested in our culture, we talk a lot together.”
Perspectives for the future
Through Nasifas’ work, Cham children will increase their chances to access higher levels of education in Cambodia as the language of instruction is usually Khmer. AEA and KAPE work hand in hand on this project for ethnic minority children which is co-funded by Educate A Child as part of the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School children (CCOSC) It aims to newly enrol nearly 4000 children and retain 80% of them throughout a whole primary education cycle.
For Nasifas, her future is clear: “I love teaching. Now I am a teacher’s assistant. I am the one who is responsible for teaching if the teacher is absent. I hope I can become a teacher myself.” Continuous self-learning is also part of her role. “I learn a lot myself about the Khmer culture while I am teaching. For example, I learn from the teacher about Khmer history and then I can convey this to children.”