Teaching in Kampong Kdei

2 11 2011

Since Katie has talked a bit about her work at the health center, I thought I’d try to answer some of the common questions about my work at school so far. That mean it’s time for another general update post.

School entrance

School entrance and assembly grounds

My school is home to about 1,000 students from grades 7-12 and is situated 3 km from the central market area of Kampong Kdei. It is a relatively modern school and seems to have gotten its share of attention from NGOs, USAID, and the Cambodian government compared to other schools that I’ve been to in Cambodia thus far. The school is clean and well kempt, with flowers planted along the assembly grounds, plants growing from makeshift plastic bottle pots in each classroom, and two colorful maps dutifully painted by students on the outer school walls. The school is separated into four or five main buildings, separated by grades somewhat by building. The school has both a basketball court and a football field, but the field has been underwater since I arrived four weeks ago.  Behind the school buildings, students plant corn which they later sell at the market to pay for school activities. Beyond the small vegetable plot is a pond used for all the school’s water needs (irrigation, drinking water, water for bathrooms, etc) throughout the year.

Unlike many Cambodian schools, my school has lights in every classroom, some ceiling fans, a library, and a computer lab. The library was donated by an NGO and has a librarian on staff, while the computer lab was donated by another NGO as well as by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The only problem is that the school doesn’t have money for electricity, leaving the lights off, the fans still, and the twelve donated computers covered in a fine layer of dust.


English Club classroom

Students attend school from 7-11 and 2-4 Monday through Saturday. School starts at 7 with an assembly consisting of the national anthem and some announcements over a loud speaker. Classes generally get underway at about 7:25 or so, with a fifteen minute break at 7:50. The second half of class will usually start at 8:10 depending on the teacher. This pattern follows until lunch break when all 1000 students rush out of the school gate and flood the national road with bicycles and motos, all operated by students with perfectly bright, pressed white shirts with their names printed on the left breast. At two o’clock, the tide comes back in for one final two-hour afternoon class.

Needless to say, there is a lot of movement and a lot of time off from learning at school. In any given two hour class at 7 am, there is about an hour and twenty minutes of class time. With this time, I work beside a Cambodian English teacher in relatively small classes of 40-45 students. Between classes, the teachers tend to retreat to the teachers’ lounge to discuss teaching methodologies with me and much more exciting topics with their Cambodian counterparts.


Bikes in the courtyard

My school’s students, teachers, and administrators have all been very friendly and welcoming throughout my first month at site. They tend to hold me in very high regard (too high if you ask me) and respect what questions I’ve asked (many) and ideas I’d had (few).  Right now the primary challenge is adapting a teaching style to the book that is set forth by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The book does not encourage communication in a way that an introductory foreign language book in the US might, for example. It focuses heavily on reading and vocabulary, which, in my opinion, is creating high school graduates who are walking English dictionaries, but can’t form sentences since they never had to practice the skill during school. Another issue is that many lessons in the book would be incomprehensible to the students in their native Khmer, never mind in English. It should come as no surprise then that students struggle to read a passage about Windsurfing in Malta when none of the students have ever seen anyone windsurf or have the slightest clue where Malta is. In short, the book is incredibly challenging for all the wrong reasons.

World Map

World map mural, painted by a previous volunteer

So how do my coteachers and I deal with these issues? First, I’ve started an English conversation club to give students an opportunity to practice what they learn and teach them some colloquial English. So far, these have been a lot of fun and will allow some creativity that might not fit well in a regular class. Second, my coteacher and I will be introducing new teaching methods and supplemental lessons to teach students more effectively. Third, I will be working with coteachers to improve their English and encourage them to be more confident and creative in the classroom.

I’ll write more about the Cambodian classroom periodically in the future since I think it’s an interesting look into some very real differences in culture between the US and Cambodia. If you’re into reading about teaching methodologies and learning styles, you’re in for a real treat. If not, I’m sorry. Read Katie’s entries.

In addition to English class and English clubs, I’ve also been teaching some private classes with Katie at our house Monday through Thursday. It’s been a good way of getting to know people here, learning more about Cambodia and Kampong Kdei, and staying busy. We have three separate classes (kids beginner, adult beginner, and advanced) so every lesson is different. It’s also allowed me to try out new methods and lessons that I can use with my larger public classes.





One response

4 11 2011

Your school looks lovely! Your kids do a good job sweeping up those classrooms ;) bahahah

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