COVID-19 Op-ed

Inclusive Education amid Covid-19 in Cambodia

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Neak Piseth
Founder of “The Way of Life Cambodia.” He received a scholarship to pursue his master’s degree in Non-Formal Education at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. He has been working as an English Lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He is also the author of the book “The Genuine Chapters of Life” and a reviewer at Cambodian Education Forum.

According to UNESCO, inclusive education refers to the systems that remove any barriers limiting their learning participation in regardless of their genders, ages, physical abilities, religions, cultures, and others (UNESCO, 2020). The initial turning point in Cambodia towards inclusive education was the ratification of the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) on 20 November 1989, which recognized the right of the child to enjoy the equal opportunity to access education (UN, 2006). Covid-19 not only challenged Cambodia’s health system but also its education sector. The government had no choice but stopped schooling in mid-March for health safety (Neak, 2020).

Despite the impact of COVID-19,  inclusive education through Social Media like Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, radio and television is being implemented to disseminate preliminary information for students’ health protection (Internation, 2020).

Traditional face-to-face education has been replaced by online learning. Hence, problems arise in terms of granting inclusive education in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (Rinith, 2020). For instance, we can see that developed countries are still lagging behind in terms of technological advancement including internet connectivity. This is a primary issue in delivering equitable quality education for all, especially to marginalized groups and disabled people (Nishio, 2019). The marginalized groups and differently-abled people are also vulnerable as learning through online is uncommon and likely impossible for them (UNICEF, 2020)

Due to limited knowledge and low standard of living in Cambodia, online access is difficult. The deficient technological skills of the teachers also contributed to this problem. As a result, the COVID-19 outbreak exacerbates these problems that have been present for a long time. The pandemic only highlighted these issues and further preventing the government and other relevant stakeholders from ensuring inclusive education to everyone in Cambodia.

Nevertheless, the government has worked closely with developing partners to establish some educational programs via radios to assist marginalized and ethnic groups to have access to education (Children, 2020). They also developed educational programs with body language to help disabled students to be able to access to education. These actions have articulated that never has the Cambodian government, and other relevant stakeholders put everyone left behind.

During the conference on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day on 05 October, Minister of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MOEYS), HE. Dr Hang Chuon Naron lauded the efforts of the teachers. He stated: “even amidst COVID-19 outbreak, teachers have managed to invest time and effort into education, via online teaching, and they are essential when implementing education reform” (Times, 2020).

MOEYS launched “Smart Teachers for Digital Education” to promote teachers’ role in providing equal education in all levels. Although advanced technology for assisting online learning poses some obstacles in implementing an equitable quality education, the window of opportunity is open for everyone to have access to education. Some teachers and youth have volunteered to train vulnerable groups like students with disabilities, gifted children and ethnic groups. These actions underpin the efforts of the Cambodian government and other actors in ensuring quality and inclusive education to everyone amid the pandemic.

Inclusive education in Cambodia during the Covid-19 outbreak has many challenges for teachers and learners. Nevertheless, if we look at the positive side, there is a flash of silver lining lying. It could be an initial turning point for learners, who otherwise would have a difficult time accessing physical school It is key that Cambodians are able to adapt to the new environment by using all available resources to keep their endeavors alive.

References:

Children, S. t. (2020). SAVE THE CHILDREN: PREPARING FOR AND RESPONDING TO COVID-19 IN CAMBODIA. SAVE THE CHILDREN. Retrieved from https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/17669/pdf/Save%20the%20Children%20in%20Cambodia%20COVID-19%20Response%20Strategy%20Brief.pdf

Internation, R. (2020). Responding to COVID-19 education challenges in low-resource settings. Retrieved from https://www.rti.org/impact/cambodian-students-learn-at-home-during-covid-19

Neak, P. (2020). Self-directed learning: The way forward for education after the COVID-19 crisis. Cambodian Educational Forum. Retrieved from http://ambodianeducationforum.wordpress.com/2020/08/03/self-directed-learning-the-way-forward-for-education-after-the-covid-19-crisis/?fbclid=IwAR1mwGp7sa35SEWyvSU7DapMCmZOZ5kOBgp22G-ZA-30G0jazCEKKu1lvUY

Nishio, A. (2019). History and Current Situation of Education for Children with Disabilities in Cambodia: A Gray Literature Review. Scientific Research Publishing. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4236/ce.2019.108125

Rinith, T. (2020). Rethinking education: An inclusive response to COVID-19. Khmer Times. Retrieved from https://www.khmertimeskh.com/726828/rethinking-education-an-inclusive-response-to-covid-19/

Times, K. (2020). The Ministry of Education congratulated teachers across Cambodia to celebrate World Teacher Day. Khmer Times.

(2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol. New York: United Nations.

UNESCO. (2020) What is inclusive education?/Interviewer: C. Acedo. Educational Platform,

UNESCO, International Bureau of Education.

UNICEF. (2020). Ensuring an inclusive return to school for children with disabilities. Vietnam: UNICEF Vietnam.


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