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Our project at Srayang is a pivotal junction on the pathway to education that starts deep in the remote forests and farmlands of Preah Vihear province. It enables village students to access high school and opportunities that previously were not within their reach. 

Now, as we enter our second decade at Srayang, we are in the midst of preparations for the new school year next month, with our biggest intake since being fully operational post-Covid. A whopping 36 new students in total have just enrolled at SLC in Grade 7 and are embarking on the next stage of their learning journey!

Field Staff Sothea & Socheat welcome the new intake & their families for the enrolment process

While this is a huge cause for celebration, it has not been a straightforward path to get to this point – or an easy road for these students. We’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the twists and turns of the Srayang pathway and the particular challenges of the communities that it serves. 

Ravuth teaches in the new computer lab at Srayang

For students graduating from Romchek, Koh Ker, and Prey Kuol primaries, the only option for secondary school is at Srayang – some 15km away from home and an impossible daily journey for most. As the first PLF students began to graduate Grade 6, we conquered this obstacle in 2010 by establishing a dormitory at Srayang, right next door to the secondary school. 

This meant we could take the cream of the crop – on average the top 10 performers who naturally stood out each year – and house them within walking distance of middle school. At Grade 10, the highest performers of these would again be on the road to our scholars’ dorm in Siem Reap in order to access the far better quality government high schools in the city and, from there, could access tertiary education. 

Fast forward 10 years, and with the standard of Srayang High School improving, we saw that students could now complete Grade 12 there, and we began the transition of Srayang to a Learning Center. Converting the dorm living quarters to classrooms, and with huge trucks transporting students to and from their villages everyday, meant we could take a larger number of students to the Center each year, while they could remain living at home with their families – a far more favorable situation, and a win-win all round.

Now village students are picked up from home and brought to the center daily

With this transition, and dealing with larger yearly intakes, a shift was required in the way that we assessed students for entrance. We needed to be sure that the new Grade 7s could stay apace with the middle school curriculums. Because, despite the growing standard in Srayang’s secondary school, the village primaries from which students were coming were not equally improving. The opening of the Learning Center also coincided with the beginning of the pandemic; and as part of our post-Covid recovery strategy, in 2022 we began offering remedial classes to the Grade 7 students coming through in order to get them back on track after prolonged school closures. 

However, during this process, we realized that a larger issue was happening downstream, in the primary schools.

The village schools and the communities they serve remain some of the most disenfranchised that we work with. The villages are so remote, it is hard for the schools to attract fully-trained government teachers, and this greatly affects the quality of the teaching: currently there is only one fully-trained teacher at each of the Romchek, Koh Ker and Prey Kuol primaries, with the rest of the staff having only a Grade 9 schooling themselves. Teachers have very little pedagogical skills, and just plod through the year books. They teach by rote learning methods, without knowing how to review lessons in order to identify or fill any missing gaps in their students’ understanding. 

And there are so many gaps. 

Realizing the full extent of this deficit, at the beginning of the 2023 school year, we shifted focus away from remedial for Grade 7 and towards bolstering primary classes. This has taken the form of additional class time for Grade 6 who have their regular classes in the morning and then come back in the afternoon for additional review and practice. 

Ponheary has been a phenomenal part of this strategy, hugely improving the learning experience for these students – and their teachers. Having been a primary teacher for a very long time, she knows how to coach the teacher to circle back and do proper lesson review. How to make classes more fun & engaging. And crucially, make sure all of the curriculum is being completed in time for both the government end of year exams, as well as our own entrance exams for SLC.

Ponheary regularly met with Grade 6 students (left) to help prepare them for the exams (right)

This is not something we have ever needed to do at our other locations but – with the level of disenfranchisement that exists here, and the flexible nature of our strategy to build pillars around the particular challenges of each demographic that we serve – we have made this unprecedented move to mitigate this reality for Preah Vihear students. 

Was it worth it?

Now with the entrance exams completed, we can see that yes, these efforts – the additional classes and Ponheary’s regular visits – have indeed made a big difference! After two years of low numbers of students being able to earn their seat on the truck, we are thrilled to see that the number of students passing our entrance exam has doubled, and we are also on the way to making up the ground lost due to Covid.

We will repeat this strategy for the new school year ahead, and with team development and peer-coach modeling from our teacher trainer Sothy, we hope to make lasting improvements to benefit future Grade 6 cohorts.

Making Space

In anticipation of this extended intake for 2023 and beyond, we have quietly been expanding classroom capacity at SLC with the construction of two new classrooms, as well as completely upgrading the computer lab.

The new building greatly increases our classroom space, doubling our capacity for an extra 100 students. Our workshop team were the first to use the space with sessions held during the school break (right), and it’s so good to see the classes full. 

We’ve also extended the computer lab and doubled its capacity with the installation of 14 brand-new terminals. This caters to our growing cohort of G11 and G12 students and the essential digital skills they need for high school and beyond. 

IT team Sotheara & Chamroeun work to install the new lab

Yet more cause for celebration in the year ahead is the return of Ravuth to Srayang, who is moving back to take up a new post at the center! Ravuth hails from Preah Vihear and was one of the first students to stay at Srayang when it was the newly opened dorm. He went on to our scholars’ dorm in Siem Reap, completing his degree in IT while beginning to work for PLF as both dorm-father and then at KVLC where he has been teaching Khmer, science, and chess for the last 3 years. 

He is absolutely steeped in the ethos of PLF, and is chomping at the bit to bring his skills and experience back to his homeland. He will have both teaching and field staff responsibilities, and we could not be more excited and proud of this development – for both him professionally and his community he is returning to! To hear more directly from Ravuth himself please head over to our People of PLF blog.

It’s exciting times ahead for SLC, and we can’t wait to see how the new intake does!

Srayang Learning Center is a collaboration between PLF Canada and PLF USA.

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