Most of Cambodia’s indigenous communities are found in the northeastern provinces, with the majority speaking only their native language.
With the rest of the Kingdom communicating in Khmer, this presents obvious obstacles. There is increasing interaction between isolated communities and the country at large, so some Khmer is often spoken. Even so, literacy rates among indigenous communities in Cambodia remain low.
Specialists from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports have identified some of the challenges that restrict access to education for children in indigenous communities. There is a lack of teachers able to speak both the national language and that of the indigenous children. Additionally, these isolated communities are often impoverished, and the combination of low income and great distances poses another barrier to education.
A multilingual education program has been in place for 20 years, with the Department of Special Education being responsible for teaching indigenous children.
A multilingual former student from Bakeo district, Ratanakkiri province, Kwan Phleurng, said he has seen many changes among indigenous children in his community, especially in terms of their level of education and the economic well-being of their community. their families.
“I started teaching them as a community teacher in 2015. In 2017 I was accredited by the Ministry of Education and started teaching as part of the state,” a- he added.
He also said that this school year has seen 125 students – all of whom are indigenous children – with the community school having six classrooms at the primary level.
During his years as an educator, he has seen many students become valuable contributors to society. Most of those who graduated have become teachers and business people who communicate closely with most Cambodians, while others have worked with NGOs to develop their communities.
“I still encounter some problems, the main one being that of parents who migrate for work. It can affect their children’s studies,” he said.
To make sure they all get an education, he talks with their parents and offers as many children as possible a chance to go back to school.
The leaders of the Planning and Cooperation Office of the Department of Special Education closely monitor the development of indigenous communities in Bakeo district.
Pen Chan Kanab, head of the office, said this indigenous group lived far from the city and only spoke their native language. The number of people who can speak Khmer remains low.
He said the ministry once sent state teachers to indigenous areas, but there were many instances of miscommunication, which led to many students dropping out. This is why the ministry launched the multilingual education program and recruited bilingual community teachers.
“We have adopted a model in which the multilingual education program serves as a bridge between the mother tongue and the national language in grades 1 to 3,” he said.
In this program, first-year students learn in 80% of their mother tongue and 20% in Khmer. This changes to a 60/40 split in Year 2, then to a 30-70 ratio in Year 3. In the 4th year, classes are entirely taught in Khmer.
He noted that the whole community had made good progress and expected the program to be introduced in increasingly remote parts of the Kingdom.
According to the office, since 2002, the Ministry of Education has targeted five provinces – Ratanakkiri, Stung Treng, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear and Kratie. The program was implemented in four public preschools and 124 community preschools in these target areas. The languages used for the first years of education are Tumpun, Kroeng, Bunong, Kuoy, Kroal, Kavet, Prov, Charay and Kachak.