Next month sees the two-year anniversary of the opening of our learning center in Srayang. Yep in August 2020, we celebrated this new addition to our learning center program … and almost immediately had to close it again!
SLC first enrolment in 2020
To say that SLC had a bit of a bumpy ride in its inaugural year is an understatement. With the on-off school closures and restrictions due to Covid, we’ve only really been able to fully run activities since January this year.
Srayang is an integral junction on the pathway for rural students coming out of the remote villages of Preah Vihear province; our presence there goes back to 2010, when we first established a project base. We were already working with primary schools at Koh Ker and Romchek villages, where there are no secondary schools. As the first graduates finished Grade 6, we had to find a way to accompany them beyond the primary school gates and ensure they could access the nearest junior high school – which was at Srayang, some 15km away. Initially, we found Srayang families with whom these first students could lodge, but this brought its own challenges. In 2010, we re-thought our strategy, bit the bullet, and purchased a house opposite the Secondary School to establish a dormitory, and our first graduates from Koh Ker – all girls! – moved in.
The first class of Srayang dorm students in 2010
Our beloved housemother Sieng Ry in the first kitchen
A decade later in 2020, and following the success of our learning center at Knar village, we took the natural next step and remodeled the dormitory into Srayang Learning Center.
This move marked two monumental evolutions: turning the page on residential care for young adolescents; and widening the pathway of access to high school education. Instead of being limited by availability of beds in our dorm – reserved for the highest achieving students – now we have the capacity to offer all primary graduates who are ready for high school the opportunity to sit our entrance exam and reach the next milestone.
From Srayang, the pathway opens wide with further opportunities offered up. Those students destined for university can apply to our Scholars Dorms in Siem Reap where they receive all the support and resources required to give them the academic edge to achieve university entrance. Others, like young people everywhere, are better served by programs that provide more immediate access to employment through our Vocational Training partnerships. For those who stop at Grade 9, many go back to work in their communities, some within PLF projects, becoming among the first in their villages to have career opportunities.
As we followed those early students out of the villages, the pathway became mapped – with Srayang becoming a crucial landmark along the way.
Covid blurred the contours somewhat, but while working within the limits of government restrictions, we were still able to offer eLearning to high school students, as well as distribute library books and worksheets for students.
eLearning and worksheet distributions during Covid
Now two years on, the center is finally fully open – and all systems are go!
Srayang opening day in January 2022
Our three trucks collect the students from the villages at 6am, bringing them to the public school for morning lessons. At lunchtime, they come to the center for their meal and extra classes.
They return to the public school from 2 until 4pm, then back in the trucks and home by dark. The center is open Monday to Saturday, following the public school schedule.
We currently have just under 100 students enrolled in grades 7 through to 12 – with the vast majority of those in middle school. We instantly saw the biggest fallout of Covid in this age range: Grades 7 & 8 are particularly suffering after missing two years of school and being automatically ‘passed’ through to the next grade as part of the government’s Covid ‘strategy’. Not surprisingly, and through no fault of their own, they are now having real difficulty understanding middle school lessons. In response to this, we are focussing a lot of our efforts on remedial course work, and have hired government teachers in math and Khmer to help them catch up. For those in remedial, we’ve postponed English classes in order to keep the focus on these core subjects. And we’ve continued to provide the eLearning support that began during Covid and will bolster students’ preparation for the national exams.
Remedial math and Khmer classes
We’re testing the students regularly to check their progress. Originally we imagined they would require remedial classes for a year maximum, but the tests show us that we need to leave the door open a while longer. We’re on the cusp of getting somewhere with it but not quite yet – data towards the end of this year will reveal exactly where they’re at. Stay tuned for updates on that. We’ll do whatever it takes, and for however long, to keep them in school and prevent dropout. It’s the key to getting students back on track after the past terrible two years.
As well as academic support, we provide life skills and personal development subjects through our robust workshop program. There are so many things students need to know but are not taught at home or at school: how to set goals, how to understand their bodies and their health, how to be resilient and solve problems … the list goes on. These skills need to be mastered and, without them, students go off into life without understanding how things work. Our workshops incorporate this essential knowledge into students’ educational experience.
Nutrition and Drugs & Alcohol Awareness workshops
The Srayang library is successfully opened and the students are utilising it. Our fantastic librarian Nonn, himself a PLF graduate, is an avid reader and is making great gains in instilling a love of books in the students – especially amongst boys, which is crucial in addressing higher dropout rates amongst this group. We are heartened to see so many boys joining his book-sharing sessions.
Librarian and book mentor Nonn
Boys checking out books!
Only slightly problematic is the high loss rate of books we’re experiencing – at Srayang it’s the highest across any of our locations! It reveals that students are not used to borrowing books or the etiquette involved, and it’s something we’re working on … but at least they are borrowing in the first place!
Book sharing sessions
Another challenge is the cost of gas. With the price skyrocketing globally we are not alone with this problem. These trucks are thirsty and they guzzle a lot to get our students from A to B and back again, 6 times a week. Currently it’s costing us $10 per month per student.
Such are the twists and turns of the journey. In the same spirit of navigation that illuminated the first pathway out of the villages, we continue to cross the river by feeling the stones. The scope of our work at Srayang Learning Center will develop and evolve in order to address the needs of the students. And it will continue to signpost the way – onwards to their futures.
This is a project of PLF Canada, executed by PLF Cambodia.
Like the sound of our programs and want to get involved, but not sure how?
For as little as $10 a month, you could contribute to the ongoing education of our students. $120 goes a long way in Cambodia: that’s 5 village children on the road to education, with access to school and clean drinking water for half a year. Or a million other things, all of which coalesce into the tools needed for life to change for the better!
Have some questions?
Email us for a chat at [email protected]