Students are heading back to school for the first time since March, and this year back to school season looks different than it has in the past. Some students are facing an increased risk of COVID-19 as they head into full classrooms. Others are stuck at home participating in online classes. Many are trying to get by without the resources and technology necessary for online school. Many parents are working from home and homeschooling at the same time. College students are navigating a new world of online university, and campuses are eerily empty. Sharing laptops with siblings and parents, trying to find a quiet space to work in a full house, economic hardship putting pressure on families - all of these are new struggles for so many, and that's just in Canada!
In Cambodia, 2.6 million of the 3.2 million students enrolled in public school live in rural areas of the country, and for these students in particular, back to school season means navigating new challenges. Since schools closed in March, inequalities have been revealed and exacerbated by the pandemic. COVID-19 is more than just a health crisis. “It has been an economic, social and educational crisis as well. And what’s more, these crises have had unequal consequences – with the poor feeling the impacts the hardest” (Cambodianess, 2020).
For many students, this is their first time studying remotely, and they lack the training and resources to engage in online learning. One 19-year-old student shared that some students “don’t even have te proper devices needed to access such programmes,” (Khmer Times, 2020). Ly Mey, a Grade 9 student, shares that she “[at home, she] shares a smartphone with [her] younger sister and mother,” (Khmer Times). These challenges faced by young students in Cambodia are exacerbated by the economic crisis facing the country – worrying about whether you have the resources to attend online school feels pretty inconsequential when you are worried about having the resources to feed your family.
In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge killed approximately 2 million people through starvation, overwork and executions. This violent genocide has resulted in a very young population in the country today. In Cambodia, 31% of the population is 14 years or younger, compared to Canada where this same age group makes up only 16.0% of the total population. Among other factors, this age distribution contributes to some young students working to help support their families instead of going to school. Serey, whose story you can read here, experienced this, selling snacks and collecting recyclables as a child, and later working in a garment factory to help support her family. As a result she only completed 6th grade, then went back to complete her education later in life. Serey now works with DOVE, managing the Onyx Leadership program and developing young leaders who are experiencing similar circumstances as Serey did ten years ago.
Organizations in Cambodia that Tenth is partnered with work so hard every day, adapting to these challenges presented by COVID-19. Precious Women, led by Solida Seng, has been utilizing their Facebook platform to share online English classes and vocational training videos for women in the community. DOVE and Glory School continue to create spaces for learning and for the discipleship of the future leaders of Cambodia. Alongsiders International continues to center discipleship and loving relationships in all they do, in addition to creating educational content for young mentors to share with the youth they walk alongside.
If you would like to learn about how you can support students in Cambodia, as they persevere in their education despite these barriers and challenges, please email us!