In Cambodia, Learning during Covid-19
May 13, 2020
Cambodia’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 occurred in late January. With a second case in early March in Siem Reap Province, home of the renowned temples of Angkor Wat, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (MoEYS), in an abundance of caution, closed the schools until further notice.
Education in Cambodia ground to a halt, or so one might have imagined, but the MoEYS quickly found creative ways to promote learning outside the traditional school setting. The ministry worked with private companies to launch a new e-learning initiative. Lessons for students in grades one through 12 were prerecorded and offered online through the ministry’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, and e-learning website.
With schools closed, the responsibility for teaching has now shifted from teachers to families. While the online lessons from the MoEYS are vital to keep kids on track during this enforced hiatus, they are not enough: nurturing children’s creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking is just as important as academic lesson plans. The new routines are stressful for both children and parents, but sheltering at home can also be an ideal time to help kids develop positive learning habits.
The MoEYS’s e-learning initiative came just a few days after the national #ReadEveryDay campaign, in which The Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read project joined forces with the MoEYS, telecom provider Smart Axiata, and 11 NGOs to promote a weeklong read-aloud event. #ReadEveryDay released 10 videos with tips for reading aloud, to encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians to spend quality time reading with children and students. The campaign, which had hoped for 100,000 participants, succeeded far beyond its expectations, reaching more than 220,000 children throughout Cambodia,
As MoEYS moves to online learning, Let’s Read is pivoting to provide support for reading at home.
Reading is a cornerstone of critical thinking that encourages curiosity and creativity. One study, which relied on functional magnetic resonance imaging, found that reading picture books to young children creates mental connections far more complex than words alone or animated videos. The authors suggested that the combination of spoken words and illustrations allowed children to create a richer image of the story in their own minds, encouraging imagination and creative thinking.
Reading aloud helps children absorb new information, new vocabulary, and new ways of thinking. It helps them develop better comprehension, form bonds with caregivers and teachers, and learn empathy by making sense of other people’s feelings and emotions.
It can also strengthen the bonds between parents and children during this stressful time. Youngsters suddenly stuck at home by the pandemic may find it hard to express the anxiety and unfamiliar emotions that come with these sudden changes to their familiar routines, and reading aloud can create a space for families to start conversations and discuss their fears and concerns.
Let’s Read is now supporting MoEYS’s e-learning initiatives during the pandemic with the #LetsReadAtHome campaign, which provides essential learning materials in Khmer, English, and nearly 30 other languages. The Let’s Read digital library offers books that are relevant to the lives of young Cambodians and that challenge readers to use their imaginations to explore new places and ideas. It will be providing free resources to children, teachers, caregivers, and family members who need children’s storybooks to read aloud.
The pandemic won’t last forever. The Asia Foundation is working to ensure that children can continue to learn and grow while they stay safe and healthy at home.
This story previously appeared in the Khmer Times.
Sornnimul Khut is senior digital program officer and Chansomey Chheang is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Cambodia. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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