K’Nat Primary – a great little school

This is just a quick post about my school visit today.

Despite some minor cultural problems, described below!, it was a great visit.  I was most impressed with the Headteacher, who clearly held the school close to his heart, knew about everything that was going on, was behind all the good things that had taken place and yet accepted what to me was rather patronising advice from some of the Ministry people with a good grace.

I felt that I learned a lot, rather than having advice to offer, from what was a well run and well appointed Cambodian school, probably the best I have seen so far, despite some very large classes, well over 50.  He had a Buddhist monk from the local pagoda as his chair of the school support committee and this seems to be a great move as a lot of community charity in Cambodia goes through the pagodas.   On the wall, are painted the names of the 100+ community members who have given donations, while in every classroom were pictures of an American Cambodian family (fled the Khmer Rouge) who support the school.   The children were disciplined and friendly.  If I have a criticism it would be that what I saw of the teaching was not as engaging for the learners as some of the other schools I have visited, although the class pictured below (12 were absent for the roll of 44) worked well in their groups and clearly understood how to co-operate and support each other in the activity set.    The children here are so eager for learning, and so well behaved – so sociable in their character, that any UK teacher would give their eye teeth to have them in their classes in UK.

The ladies running the library had been trained by ‘Room to Read’ who had also provided the books.  They were really proud of their system for finding out who had visited the library. Each class has a plastic bottle for girls and one for boys (you can see them in between the ladies). Whenever a child enters the library s/he picks up a little shell from the tub and places it in the relevant plastic bottle.   At the end of the month, they empty out each bottle and  write the totals up on a big wall chart to keep an eye on library useage across the school.  There is a timetable for teacher supported access and access is pretty free at interval and lunchtimes.  These ladies are ordinary teachers who have taken on the library as part of their job. I think they are doing rather well.

Here are the pictures in slide show format.

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A deserted school in the rain, 6.45am!

just to prove I was there.. that's me at the back, looking inconspicuous

groups hard at work

group leaders present their findings

.. counting seashells ...

library view

playtime in the rain


















































The last couple of days I have been in Siem Reap, not to see the temples of Angkor, but to attend a conference where all the Provincial and District Directors of Education are getting together with the Ministry staff to review progress in the Child Friendly Schools initiative.  It’s a great programme, supported by UNICEF, but very unevenly implemented so far.  The conference has left me feeling strangely optimistic, as much because of the people as anything else, although some of the incidents around the conference have been interesting learning experiences for me…. such as the start of this field visit which we did today to K’Nat Primary School.    We were told to be at the College at 6.00 (that’s AM!) so I arranged to be picked up by the moto driver at 5.45 – when it was raining!   We arrived at the College at 6.00 to find everyone already loaded into the buses.   However that was an illusion.  We hung about for twenty mins before anyone left.  I then had to share the front seat of the minibus with a rather large Khmer man – not very comfortably – for the 15 – 20 Km drive out to this school.  When we got to the school, there was no-one there.  The school director didn’t expect us so early and because of the rain a lot of kids came in later after the rain had stopped!   It then took about 4o mins for us to work out what we (ie 30 delegates from the Ministry ) were going to do / see etc.   Yet despite this start to the day, and innumberable other time-wasting frustrations, it somehow works.  One day quite soon I may be ready to write about the ups and downs, the blacks and whites, the paradoxes of Cambodia…  but not quite yet!


9 thoughts on “K’Nat Primary – a great little school

  1. I’m amazed! The school in cambodia is so much different than ours. What must it be like to be off because of rain!!! And no COMPUTERS!!!! I really can not imagine what it must be like. we only have about 20 children in each class at riverside primary. With 50 in one of our classes and only one teacher I think she/he would have early retirement.


    P7 Gaelic Class Riverside Primary School, Living with Joan Murphy

    • it’s true Neil…. no computers some classes 40+, some classes 50+ and all the pupils well behaved. Can you imagine it? D

      Best wishes

      Daniel Murphy

      VSO Technical Adviser Dept of Curriculum Development Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport Personal Mobile: 078809938 VSO in Cambodia: 023216734 http://www.vso.org.uk

  2. What a fascinating piece…. I’m riveted by the details.

    But I’m intrigued by the numbers: my only surviving class photo from primary school, in comfy Sussex in the 1960s, shows a class of 44 similarly-grinning children, one teacher, no computers (obviously): what it doesn’t show is a library probably considerably inferior to that at K’Nat. How long have we in Britain actually had the educational provision now being advocated in Cambodia? Not very long, really….

    • It’s true Tim. Throughout Primary our class was 40 in number (I think even then we Scots invested more in public education than the benighted South East of England!). Much of the investment that has allowed this school to become better appointed has, however, come from overseas – the library from ‘Room to Read’ and the Australian Volunteers organisation, the new (1996) school building block from Japanese charities, the improvements in school environment from the Cambodian Americans who support the school. Core Ministry funding is insufficient to provide this level of support. I was reading in the PPPost (http://www.phnompenhpost.com/ ) this morning that the IMF has recently made a number of recommendations for Cambodia to stengthen its economic resilience. One of the key measures proposed is that the Govt increase the tax take to produce a longer term, more sustainable public sector, with less dependence on foreign donors. From what I have seen that is right on the button!
      One last afterthought – there are still schools under trees or built in a day from local wood, in some parts of the country (a decreasing number) and everything from that to this ‘well off’ school near the comparatively rich hotspot of tourist central Siem Reap.

  3. “Yet despite this start to the day, and innumerable other time-wasting frustrations, it somehow works.”
    To this point, my experiences so far are adding up to a general view summarised by a phrase I’ve coined: ‘Trust Khmer’ i.e. however unlikely an outcome may seem, what they say will happen seems to happen (eventually!). Patience is a VSO dimension and it can be tested here, but I’ve been more consistently surprised what has come off than what hasn’t.

    • Most of the celebrations take place around the local Buddhist Pagoda. The vast majority of people in Cambodia speak the Khmer language and the majority of them are Buddhist, though it is a particular version of Buddhism that has developed here, with #hangovers# from Hinduism which was the previous major religion before the country became Buddhist about 700 years ago! So big religous festivals during the year involve much of the community, including the schools. But parties like we know them are pretty rare. There are a lot of family events, around weddings, funerals etc.. and these involve a lot of people and a lot of music and food!! People who are invited are expected to contribute money … and sometimes, after you have given your money, your name is read out for everyone to hear, with the amount of money you gave.. so you cannot slip a few pence into the plate or you would be shamed!!

  4. Reading this, I feel a bit embarrassed about the discipline issues in our schools when pupils are taking for granted the opportunities they have. Lesley.

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