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Child to child: literacy improvement in Cambodia

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of International Literacy Day. This year’s theme, Reading the Past, Writing the Future, highlights the global efforts and progress made in increasing literacy rates over the past five decades, while also focusing on innovative solutions to boost literacy in years to come.

At a basic level, literacy is the ability to read and write, the foundation of learning and education. However, it is also a human right and a powerful tool for individual and community empowerment being a catalyst for human and social development, poverty eradication, peace and democracy.

As such, the Cambodian Government has prioritised improving the quality of education for primary school children. However, while Cambodia’s education system has seen some improvements (for instance, increased school enrolment rates), the reading abilities of many young learners remains poor.

There are several reasons for this. Children often have limited classroom time as many teachers are underpaid and have to work multiple jobs, and students also have limited access to quality libraries and school resources. In addition, there are few literacy programs or interventions available inside or outside the classroom. As a result, many students in rural schools don`t have adequate opportunities to practise their reading.

To address this, ChildFund Cambodia is partnering with local organisation Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE) to implement the Easy2Learn Project. This features a child-to-child reading method aimed at improving literacy in eight primary schools in Svay Rieng Province, and is supported by the Australian Government.

As a peer tutoring initiative, older students tutor younger student learners. During designated sessions, older students help their younger classmates read and write in Khmer using special reading toolkits provided by ChildFund and KAPE.

For slow learners, this informal support network means tutors can explain concepts more simply and in a private environment, with no pressure from teachers. Children are more comfortable and confident, and learn more quickly and effectively. In this sense, children themselves become an important resource in improving the quality of education in schools.

This program has also been of huge benefit for teachers, with the School Director in Svay Phaem noting: “I’m relieved as I no longer have to worry as much about students’ reading abilities. The older tutor students are very good at teaching the younger students in a way they find interesting and enjoyable. I can see that many more students’ reading abilities are getting better.”

Recent results from the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), an international-standard test designed to measure the basic foundation skills for literacy acquisition, highlights the improvements that have already been made, with the reading scores of Grade 1 students tested doubling from a baseline of 7% to 14%, and Grade 2 scores almost tripling from 9% to 25%.

This project not only promotes literacy, but teaches leadership skills, and develops respect, teamwork and friendship among the student body; with children also learning how to be empathetic, understanding and kind.

“I feel satisfied and happy to teach and learn through this program, as I’ve never had the opportunity to help several students with their Khmer, like I do now,” says Rina, a student tutor. “I feel like I have a good relationship with my younger schoolmates, and feel very proud with what I am doing. I`m so happy to see that the students I’ve been assisting are improving!”

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