Two years ago in an unprecedented move, PLF removed it’s programming from Knar Primary School in Banteay Srei District and established a separate Learning Center a couple of kilometers down the road. In so doing we broke the “PLF template” of working inside government schools. While we are not convinced that would be a beneficial move at any other location, we did have a few happy outcomes worth noting.
Our students in the Knar area have a history of not being able to complete high school, especially the boys, and we’ve tried several things over the years to encourage them to finish (and go beyond!) Most of our attempts have gained very little traction with impact only being slightly incremental compared to progress in other communities. While we were not intentionally moving out of primary school to address this challenge, an unpredictable outcome became apparent when we started seeing more of our high school students attending evening classes and workshops.
After the first year, the drop out rate is less than 1%. Since it’s a requirement that students be passing at public school in order to attend classes at the Center, that 1% number infers that if we can get more students interested in classes, especially at the high school level, then retention through high school will improve dramatically.
The village has really come together to support and engage with the Learning Center, first by offering us a plot of land with an existing building where we could hold classes for only $40 a month.
The landlord let us convert his tractor shed into a kitchen so we could get food rolling out for the Primary School students. Currently, approximately 120 students are joining us for lunch 5 days per week. Serving lunch means that students who finish public school at 11 am don’t need to talk all the way home for lunch then all the way back to the Center to begin afternoon classes. Attendance straightened right out when the lunch was put on and of course, contributing to the general well-being of children who just don’t get enough to eat is always a good thing.
Currently, 83% of all eligible students (those attending public school) are enrolled at the Center, and it’s absolutely bursting at the seams.
Sitting under the desk possibly not optimal!
We’ve currently got the following classes running:
English classes for students in grades 4-12
Science Lab for grade 6
Chess Club for any interested students
Music Classes for any interested students
Computer Lab for high school students
Remedial Khmer Literacy, grades 4-6
Sokha is running parents workshops on Sundays and once a month we head out in the evening to set up Film Night, which is wildly popular and gives us a chance to get new Khmer films out to the rural areas for people to be exposed to new ideas and information.
No report from me is complete without a bit of data! We’re particularly encouraged by the low low drop out rate, the fact that the gender mix is right, 90% are passing classes and we’re especially proud of the accomplishments of the IT teacher, whose students’ scores speak to her effectiveness in class.
You’ll notice in the Course Mix that the highest level of engagement is at grade 6 and that strongly solves one of our first problems; student transition into secondary school. Our work ahead is to develop programming that more strongly engages our middle and high school students to keep them in school.
Almost one year ago (yes that’s right: things take time!) we brainstormed an idea to expand the facility so that we could ease overcrowding in classrooms, put more things on offer, build a library and have a bigger space for community functions.
Here is what we had to start with:
Here’s what we envisioned, with the existing house in the front (left) and new construction in the back (right).
We found a builder that can construct modular buildings so that if necessary, they can be moved.
Construction began in April and we are very near to completion now. We call them the “tinker toy” buildings.
When construction is complete, we will have two classrooms that are 6 x 9 meters and one large hall that is 9 x 12 meters. Eventually, we will cover the common area between them with a shading tent.
Up next is a solar install and building a toilet block, then we’ll begin the move.
Once the big existing classroom is empty, we’ll build the most fantastic children’s library on the planet! For now, the students are in a “reading day” program which they enthusiastically attend. They are very excited about the prospects of a library.
While waiting for construction to complete, we’ve been working on getting our teachers, Chenda and Ka’Oun, some additional training to help them manage the center and we’re thrilled to be able to bring So Sil, who was in the first class of graduates from Knar Primary school back in the genesis of our organization, back to his home village, armed with a degree in English, to head up the what is quickly becoming a large-scale English department. We’ve hired a new (female!) IT instructor, also a PLF student from Knar village. The Learning Center is the first rural location that has teaching staff who are native to the village; a long-held dream of ours that will pay off in currently unimaginable ways.
We’ve secured all the funds necessary to complete the buildings and train the teachers (thank you!) We’ve got funds for expanding the solar, building desks and building a toilet block. We’ve got some funds for equipment in the classrooms and the library, but still have loads very important items you can help us with.
We hope you’ll have a look at that laundry list and see if you can pitch in on a globe, some books, a fan or two.
We’re exceedingly thankful to everyone who shared our vision at Knar. You stuck with us during the migration out of the school and into the Center and now are making possible one of our biggest scale ups ever.
Sometimes it takes a whole village to get things done; we’re so lucky to have you in ours!
Stand by for updates on the grand opening!