Education Training So Far

18 08 2011

After a few weeks in Cambodia and nearly 2 weeks in language and technical training, Katie and I are both getting a better idea of the challenges of the work to come. For me, the daily technical sessions are a time to discuss the best methods of overcoming the challenges I’ll encounter working with youth both in and outside of the Cambodian educational system.

Some issues are glaring, some are less obvious, and probably the majority I have yet to uncover. Many of the issues in education stem from the destruction of the education system (and educators themselves, and doctors, and anyone that spoke French and anyone with glasses…) by the Khmer Rouge. For this reason and others, there is still a shortage of teachers today.

Probably the biggest compounding factor at play in Cambodia centers around the national budget and, subsequently, teacher pay. The average teacher earns $35 to $40 per month, which contributes to poor teacher attendance and spurs corruption within the school system. Due to the low salary, most teachers have to teach private lessons and/or work other jobs to support their families. This has led to a de facto dual education system in much of Cambodia. Students attend class from 7-11 am, may attend class from 1-5 pm if it is held (if the teacher shows up), and, if financially able, may attend private class during the late afternoon and summers. Since the public and private teachers are one and the same, this leads some teachers to hold back information during public classes in order to entice students to come to their private class (think something like a time-share presentation for high schoolers).

My job here then involves a few different tactics. First, it’s to supplement the overstretched teaching staff. As a volunteer, I will have the time to prepare lessons, teach free private lessons, and build relationships with students who really need extra attention. At least in the beginning, I’ll work with a co-teacher to better integrate the Cambodian and American styles of teaching. Much of the teaching here is rote memorization provided by the teacher with very little interaction or conversation. Subsequently, many students know tons of English vocabulary, but can’t form sentences, especially in speaking. As a native speaker, providing correct pronunciation and natural conversation will likely be a fist time experience for the students.

To start I’ll be teaching 16 hours a week at the high school level. This will be used as a connection to the community in order to better determine community needs to implement secondary projects. Ideas so far (subject to change based on site, needs, wind direction, etc): mental illness awareness, peer support groups, drug and alcohol education and intervention, prisoner reintegration, etc. In short, I’ll be working on needs that the community expresses and that I have experience with.


First Couple of Weeks with Peace Corps Cambodia

11 08 2011

Hopefully you’ve all gathered by now that we arrived safely in Cambodia. Yes, two and a half weeks ago we landed in this beautiful country– greeted not only by an enthusiastic group of current volunteers, but also by bright green rice paddies and countless fruit stands filled with new delicacies to try.

After a couple of short days in Phnom Penh, all 62 trainees headed to Takeo Province where we really dove into our orientation activities. Now, we have split into three smaller groups, each living in a different town in Takeo province. Our group lives in Traing and is comprised of both education and health trainees. Traing is a district capital with a market, a bank and at least a dozen little restaurants and shops. It’s located on a major highway that leads to Vietnam.

In our town, we spend 6 days a week in classes. Generally, it’s four hours of Khmer language and two or three hours of technical training (health for me, education for Tim), with cultural lessons and some safety and security thrown in.

Like all Peace Corps Cambodia trainees, Tim and I live with a host family. Our host mother is a rice farmer and her daughter, 18-year old Nita, just finished secondary school. They are unbelievably kind and have treated us so well since we moved in. We live in a two-story concrete house overlooking the rice paddies. Every morning we watch the beautiful sunrise from the terrace off of our bedroom. The family we are staying with has electricity and an indoor bathroom, as well as a TV and a moto. We are living quite comfortably here and are incredibly grateful for the warm hospitality we’ve received.

Our family provides us with rice, meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner, but we usually eat breakfast with other trainees at the market. We’re told here the coffee in Traing is the best in the country, and the fruit smoothies aren’t bad either.

All in all, it’s been a wonderful couple of weeks. We are happy and healthy and catching on to Khmer as quickly as can be expected. We have very limited internet access during training though, and won’t be able to post pictures for at least a few weeks. We will do our best to keep you updated.