To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting the commitment of some of the women we work with across Southeast Asia who are uplifting communities such as Hem Srey Oun, a preschool teacher in Cambodia.
Srey Oun was the first in her family to finish Grade 12 and is soon set to finish a degree in General Management. She’s come a long way from the girl who used to be afraid to go to school. Today, to support herself through university, she works as a preschool teacher and is committed to bringing early childhood care and education to those that need it most in her community.
“When I started primary school, I was terrified. I didn’t know how to act with the other children, I didn’t even know how to hold a pencil, I just wanted to go home”, says 22-year-old Srey Oun when asked what her first memories of school are. Srey Oun never received a preschool education so her experience of entering Grade 1 at age six, was her first experience of a formal education environment and one that came as a shock to her. “For the first month, I lied to my parents so I could get out of going to school, it actually led me to fail Grade 1”, explains Srey Oun.
The importance of ECCE
Here at Aide et Action, we are committed to designing and implementing projects that address the issues that Srey Oun describes. In Cambodia, access to and quality of early childhood care and education (ECCE) remain limited in remote and isolated areas where poor, vulnerable and ethnic minority families are predominantly located. For children who do not achieve basic foundational skills for learning, there is a high risk of dropping out of school or repeating in early grades like Srey Oun.
Children from marginalised communities have a plethora of barriers further impeding their learning including inadequate ECCE supervision. ECCE teachers are also vastly outnumbered by their students, with a teacher/student ratio of 1:31, reducing the quality of teaching and learning. Srey Oun currently has 40 students in her preschool class.
Since beginning her career as a preschool teacher, Srey Oun and the school she works for, have been supported by Aide et Action. From the provision of learning materials to classroom construction, we are working to create better learning environments for students. The quality of teaching that students receive is also at the core of our work and we’ve been supporting Srey Oun through teacher training for the past two years.
“I’ve noticed such a difference in myself and in my students over the course of the project so far”, says Srey Oun. “Before the children were not sharing or playing together but since I’ve introduced new teaching methodologies, I see them working better together and even solving problems together. I’ve become a better teacher too – I’m more confident. Before the training, I had no experience so I wasn’t sure what I was doing but now, I know what I’m doing”.
Srey Oun is set to get married this month and in Cambodia, tradition used to dictate that a woman would not work outside the home after marriage. But for Srey Oun, she’s leaving this tradition in the past. “It’s important women work after marriage, the couple should be able to both work and support each other equally. I wouldn’t give up what I have now, this is my dream job”, she adds. “In some families, husbands don’t value their wives if they don’t work. I want to be valued and I want to be treated fairly”.
While Srey Oun thinks much progress has been made in relation to gender equality in Cambodia, she still sees barriers specific to girls in education. “Girls face challenges with access to toilets in schools”, she says, noting that once girls start menstruating, dropouts occur. According to research from Clear Cambodia, 50% of schools in Cambodia do not have a safe water supply and 30% of schoolsare without adequate toilets. The lack of access to these facilities promotes absenteeism and increases school dropout rates, especially among girls.
In her own school, there are toilets but no safe water supply. Srey Oun hopes to see an improvement in facilities such as toilets in schools across Cambodia in the future and hopes that all of her young students will stay in school and finish their education to least Grade 12 level. For herself, she hopes she can finish her degree and pursue further studies and follow her dream of becoming a professor of economics.
Aide et Action is proud to work with, and support, teachers like Srey Oun who demonstrate commitment to push for progress and uplift communities through education.