Be the Change Network

aka "Kari's Blog"

Archive for October, 2009

A Change of Attitude

October 30, 2009 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

Dispatch from Education Officer Paul Chuk:  ATTITUDE CLASS

While working as an English Teacher the the Grady Grossman School  it occurred to me there were many problems within the community itself:  alcoholism, violence, mistrust, close mindedness, selfishness, low self-esteem, abusive language, disrespect, fear and controlling behavior.   I contacted my friend Sokchea at the Attitude Center For Education and asked him if he could help us train people to become a good person and good leader.  He agreed.

To do it right, I had to consult with the School Supporting Committee to sense if the Chrauk Tiek people have the interest.    The school director was skeptical because the villagers have a bad habit of not coming to any event unless they get paid. He suggested we give them two dollars per day and provide them lunch.  I was furious.  I told him, “let’s change that habit and invite them to the Attitude Class without any handout or free lunch.” His look said ‘good luck with that.’

As the class day approached closer, I was pleased and somewhat surprised to learn that there were thirty seven people registered to take the class.   At the same time I wondered how many would actually show up, I kept my expectation low to avoid big disappointment.  Actually I was a bit worried.

Surprisingly enough, we had a total of 29 participants.  There were six men and seven women who were School Supporting Committee  members, 4 teachers from our school, 6 teachers from different school nearby, our school principal and another school principal. Not too shabby considering no payment, no lunch and bad timing.  “Stoong season” was in full swing. Everyone was working extremely hard to replant the rice, they had no time for anything else because this is critical that work needs to be done.

Sokchea introduced himself as a mediator who came to share new ideas.  The class started slowly and I could feel that Sokchea was trying to sense what kind of participants were in the class.  There was a mixture of some educated ones like school teachers, school principal, those with no education at all and others who felt in between.  To keep the class in balance, he began slowly so the least educated ones could catch on. He asked us to keep an open mind to allow ourselves to explore and absorb something new, enchanting and interesting.

Before the class, I mentioned to Sokchea some of the major issues like alcohol, violence and dishonesty to see if he could emphasize those.  He spent a good amount of time talking about the consumption of alcohol and why it has bad effect on people’s lives.

Almost all of them admitted that they do have a problem with alcoholism.

One of our SSC members, Kim talked about his own drinking problem.  I am sure Sokchea could smell his breath as he got up and talked in class.   To my amazement Sokchea interacted with Kim without difficulty.  Kim  has little education but soon words began to flow out of his mouth, sharing his own drinking life story with the class.  As he talked, he was nervous and sweating profusely.  He saidthat drinking gives him more energy to work on the rice paddy or farm.  “Sometimes my wife wants me to work on the rice field preparing the ground for example, she would normally buy me a bottle of alcohol and then ask me to go to work.  I like that part and it seems to work well for both of us,” he said with a smile.  Everyone burst into laughter.

For generations, this community has lived  their lives the same way.  Drinking and violence is a norm and often times women are the victims. Their spouses abuse them verbally and physically, injuring their heads and bodies.  Yet, they have no way to stop the abusive behavior.  No one protects them; they are powerless.  One woman told the class that her husband got drunk and they got into an argument,  her husband hit her on the head, splitting her skull open.  He later treated her wound and resumed  their normal life as if nothing had happened.

Sokchea skillfully used his charm and humor to make the class more fun.  Everyone’s face was filled with a sense of satisfaction.  The whole class got excited from time to time.  Sometimes they were dead silent as Sokchea spoke softly about why they continue to treat their love one the way they did.  Is hitting a good way to show someone that you love them? He asked.  He paused a few second for the answer.  Then he screamed on top of his lunge “NO!” This brought everyone to attention.

In order to get better and find happiness everyone in this room needs to look closely into their own life and be willing to make some changes, Sokchea told the class.  As the class progressed, he moved on to talk about corruption, the role of a father, mother or children.  It was eye opening for all.  It is the first time in their lives they have heard something different.   Whether it was honesty, past resentment, unkind acts, hitting, greed, unhappiness, distrust, or conflict; they had to think about a better way to relate to each other.

The second day was interesting.  People confessed to their spouses and wanted to change.

Chey, one of our SSC members brought his wife to the class and told her that he loves her very much.  I am sorry for what I have been doing to you, drinking too much and spending irresponsibly.  It was all my fault and I apologize, he stated in front of the class.  Everyone applauded his new attitude. His wife asked me to be one of her witness to hold her husband accountable for his action.  The class had a big laugh of that scene.  I nodded my head with joy.

Vong Von’s son, Vann also got picked by Sokchea to confess in front of the crowd.  He too ended up apologizing to his father and managed to say “I love you dad!”  He did it hesitantly and did not look his dad in the eyes.   This was the first time in his life that he said this loving word to his dad.  Meanwhile his dad was in deep emotion hearing for the first time  his son express how much he loves him.  To Vann, it was not easy.  He must have felt strange to say thing like that to his dad.  He said it is hard because he keeps all of his feelings inside; he doesn’t know how to express directly. Actually, the majority of Cambodians consider this practice strange, odd or silly to tell your parents that you love them.

We were all encouraged with new hope that this class could bring Chrauk Tiek people a new meaning of life.  A different perspective was introduced.  Many small seeds of attitude changing behavior were planted. My best hope is that happiness and prosperity among the community will begin to sprout slowly but surely. That is what we all imagine.

Since Sokchea had conducted the class, I heard many good comments from the whole community throughout the Chrauk Tiek and beyond.  Some women complained that they were disappointed that no one told them about the class.  They really want to attend.  I promised them that if we have another class, we will let them know.  Three of our SSC are drinking much less now.  Vong Von’s son, Vann, is more calm and appreciative to both his parents and his wife.  A woman from SSC told me that she will try her best to put what she had learned into practice to reduce stress, be more forgiving, kinder, less worry and work toward building happiness for her family.  I am thrilled to hear the positive feed back!

Recently I had heard that many people are making changes: drinking less alcohol, less  physical violence and verbal abuse, and being honest!!

Our Khmer Teachers Feel Lucky

October 30, 2009 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

In a world where teachers often don’t show up because of low pay, listen to what our teachers have to say:

Vanna Lida:

I am 27-year-old female teacher.  I have been teaching at this school for 8 years, first and second grade.  I am married with a new born baby girl.  I live about 10 minutes from school.  Since school started a month ago, I notice that there are quite a few changes.  Students are behaving better because of strict rule: coming to class on time, dressing properly, picking up the garbage and keeping the restroom clean.  The whole school has a new look with nicer landscaping and some flowers around it.  We don’t have much garbage polluting like it used to be.
Teachers and students have better understanding of school’s policy and our common goal, which is earning good education. This is very helpful because it is much easier to talk to each other.  Students do not miss class a lot like last year. But, the challenge is to wait until it is the busy season when their parents need help with rice field work.  I hope that students continue to come to school on a regular basis throughout the school year. Having water available in both of the restrooms is very helpful.  The restroom is much cleaner now, and it is nice to have soap in each restroom. I want to thanks Kari and her entire team who has been so supportive since the beginning.  It is wonderful to have good and reliable representative like you who can assist us and share with us new ideas.

Seang Vannich:

I am a 24-year-old female teacher who has been teaching here for 3 years. I am single and living in one of the teacher residents here at school.  Our school is much cleaner this year.  I enjoy teaching more because most of the students behave better toward teachers in general.  They seem happy to be here at school and want to learn. Since you are here, teachers and students alike are being on time to start and end the classes. I think this year we have a better relationship with our students, which makes our job more pleasant.

I am very pleased that teachers have our own restroom to use, and it is very convenient. I want to personally thank you for being here and all of your hard work.   It is nice that you share with us how to handle students and point out our weakness and strength so we can try to improve our performance.  I also want to tank Kari for everything that she does for us: teachers, students and the whole Chrauk Tiek community.  We can never thank her enough for what she does.

Ngeng Sophea:

I am a 25-year-old male teacher.  I have been teaching here for 2 years.  I teach third and fourth graders.  I live here in the teacher residence.  Since you have been here, there is new spirit among us, especially the teachers. In many ways, our school is in a much better shape whether the garbage, the water supply, the restroom hygienic, new accessories in the restroom such as brushes, broom, soap, water containers etc… I especially enjoy having our own brand new restroom. I plan to make a fish pond after the national holiday, Bon Omtouk, and hopefully it will work well.  I hope the fish will help us financially because food is expensive here.  It is nice of you to give us some vegetable seeds so we can grow a few different kinds of vegetable.

I feel that this is a nice school and there are some benefits that we receive like additional salary, free housing, brand new restroom, solar power and water supply.  Other schools in the area don’t have what we have.  I have friends who are teachers in near by school.  They told me that they wish their school would be as nice as ours. I want to especially thank Kari for her continuing support and all the hard work that she does.  Without her, our lives would be much more miserable as you already know that the salary from the government alone is not very much to live on.  We are grateful for everyone who gets involved to help us out.

Chim Vichet:

I am a 23-year-old, male teacher.  I am single.  I teach here for 2 years.  This year I teach fifth and six graders.   This year, our school improves a lot, from the garbage to the restroom hygienic, to water supply. Students and teachers seem to have new attitude for the better. Our school is almost garbage free and the students’ awareness of their responsibility is amazing since you have been here. It is great that you give us good example by picking up the garbage like you do every day.  The children now understand how we all could play a role to keep our school clean, especially when they see you do it instead of telling them what to do.  I feel that you are a role model to all of us.  I can see now that students’ attendance is very good. I have to admit that this is the first time in my life that I have a nice restroom to use, which is wonderful.  I hope that you will be able to stay here for a long time so our school will continue to grow and improve.  I am not sure what my future would be like, but I hope that I could do better financially and perhaps have a family in the future. I am not sure how long it will take me to reach that point. Like everything else, to get married, it costs money, and I have a hard time saving for it because of my low salary.  We are all in the same boat; we’re struggled everyday to meet ends need.  Despite all the down side, we realize how fortunate we are.  We do better than most teachers because of Kari’s help.  I want to let her know that we appreciate her very much for supporting us all these years.

Challenges Crippling Cambodian Education

October 27, 2009 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

Challenges Crippling Cambodian Education
Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Three decades after the darkest years of the civil war, the educational system in Cambodia continues to be plagued by bribery, cheating, low wages and funding, and expensive schools.

Opinion By Diana Saw – The Phnom Penh Post

Among students from the poorest 20 percent of the population, education costs represent 79 percent of their per capita non-food expenditure, according to a 2005 study by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and UNICEF. Though the government has steadily increased the education budget as a part of total government spending during to 12.4 percent in 2007, according to UNESCO, households, donors, and NGOs still provide much of total financing for education in Cambodia. According to the UNICEF study, there are some 113 organisations that support 223 education projects in Cambodia, at an estimated cost of US$225 million from 2003 to 2008. Efforts by the Cambodian government to improve education in the country should be recognised, but the work has been inconsistent and greeted with mixed results. So while literacy rates have increased from 62.8 percent in 1998 to 77.59 percent in 2008 (according to government census figures), there was little growth in adult literacy in the period from 2001 to 2006. And though school enrollment across all levels has also gone up, to 92 percent, completion rates are still low. DIANA SAW
Cambodia’s education system is plagued by a range of detrimental factors including an absence of suitably qualified or trained staff, rampant corruption and a lack of morale among low-paid teaching staff coupled with the high cost of schooling.

The starting salary for primary school teachers in the cities is US$30 per month. High school teachers are paid between $50 and $60. These low salary figures in state schools fail to attract quality educators, which has resulted in a vicious cycle of uninterested teachers and hapless students. Educators are saddled with the burden of inadequate resources and a shortage of schools and classrooms, particularly in rural areas, limiting the number of children with access to basic education. Schools often have to be content with poorly trained teachers and little government funding, resulting in insufficient teaching materials and poorly furnished school facilities.

Low compensation forces teachers to collect informal school fees from students, creating a barrier to education for poor children. To supplement their income, teachers offer extra, after-school classes for a fee. Often, teachers will withhold the standard syllabi during school hours, reserving them for the private classes, to place pressure on parents to pay the extra tuition. Students who cannot afford, or who refuse to pay, risk humiliation, failing their exams, repeating their grade or dropping out of school. Although collecting fees is officially banned by the Education Ministry, the practice remains widespread. According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, Cambodian students have long admitted that examinations go hand in hand with money. It still costs around US $2,000 or $3,000 for someone to get into a school of law.

Wealthier parents more concerned with their child’s grades see an opportunity to exploit the system, offering to pay for school repairs or building projects, or giving gifts to teachers and principals in exchange for passes or high grades. Parents and others share their complaints over the customs that have been practised for years in this country – corruption that leads to poor delivery of real education.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, has openly criticised the government over poor management and open corruption in education. Rong Chhun added that the trading of scores for cash has gone on openly since 2001, in which student scores from two semesters are added into their final examinations in the ninth and 12th grades.

Because of this growing corruption, there are a considerable number of undergraduate students who clearly do not deserve a place in the universities. Debby Adams teaches English to second- and third-year-level students at Cambodian Mekong University (CMU), a private institution. “One-third of my students can barely speak English,” she says. “Another third are extremely brilliant students who would excel in any country. My challenge is how to help these top students and not leave the others behind.”

It seems that often there is no incentive for students to study as hard as they should in order to pass their examinations. “There is a reluctance to fail students, as failing students mean dealing with confrontational parents who put the blame on the teacher. It also means extra remedial classes. It’s just easier to let them pass,” says Adams.

Impressive statistics mask a grimmer reality. Academic credentials may not be closely linked to the laurels of political and economic success. However, the culture of corruption, underachievement and worthless paper qualifications is something Cambodia cannot afford or it risks the inevitability of its neighbouring countries’ pulling further ahead of it in development.
Diana Saw manages Bloom Cambodia, aiming to build a successful social enterprise making trade fair through fair wages and fair prices. Bloom Cambodia makes consumer products such as rice bags with recycled materials.

Police Ban Teacher Demonstration Over Salaries

October 06, 2009 By: karig2 Category: General No Comments →

This report demonstrates why SSI exists.  Low teacher wages mean high teacher absenteeism, which leads to VERY HIGH student drop out of PRIMARY school in rural areas. We are about supporting teachers and making schools RELIABLE and ACCOUNTABLE to local communities.

Police Ban Teacher Demonstration Over Salaries

By Heng Reaksmey and Chiep Mony
Original report from Phnom Penh
05 October 2009

Phnom Penh police clashed with demonstrating teachers on Monday, as a union demonstration for higher government salaries was banned.

Teachers are demanding a raise from around $30 a month to $250, a demand the government said was not possible.
Police said the members of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association had gathered in public without a permit. No one was injured, witnesses said.

“One cannot teach on an empty stomach,” said Rong Chhun, president of the teacher’s association.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions on Monday requested the Ministry of Labor raise minimum salaries for factory workers from $50 per month to $93, as high food prices continue to eat into monthly budgets.

The minimum salary was “not a lot,” conceded Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia. “But $50, for the workers, as a minimum, the workers can survive.”
If they work with incentives from factories, working hard to sew many garments, workers can earn up to $150 a month, he said.  “We want to create the incentive for the workers to work hard,” he said.