In cooperation with DVV International, the local NGO Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) has been working to provide improved non-formal education and training for members of the Kavet ethnic minority in Ratanakiri, Cambodia, since 2009. These offers are designed to help the participants to cope with the radical change to which their region has been subjected due to the rapidly advancing plantation economy. The project furthermore works towards creating a dialogue and advocacy work at sub-national level to recognise the value of non-formal and adult education in Cambodia.
Ratanakiri is one of the least developed provinces in the country. It is home to nine indigenous highland communities whose livelihoods mainly depend on agriculture and its slash-and-burn based shifting cultivation. During the seven months of rain (on average) the farmers move from their villages to the fields. These fields are commonly called chamkars and are in a remote location, not connected via roads, deeply inside the jungle. During this time of the year children and young people have no possibility to attend school, nor to reach any Community Learning Centre (CLC).
In the formal education system, children from indigenous ethnic communities are more likely to drop out of school than other Cambodian children. The children are required to help in the fields and look after siblings or animals, parents cannot afford to pay school fees, or for materials and uniforms, and most schools are too far away from where they live. The biggest challenge, however, is with language. Only a few members of the indigenous ethnic communities speak Khmer, the language that is being used in all public schools. Therefore, NTFP conducts non-formal education classes based on their officially recognised seven-module bilingual curriculum for basic literacy (equivalent to grade 3) and several other non-formal education modules to complete grade 4 equivalency. In addition, they have produced Kavet-Khmer traditional stories, health lessons and a Kavet-Khmer dictionary.
Because adults are too busy with their work, and it is almost impossible to find teachers for the local schools, NTFP selects and regularly trains volunteer teachers – in consultation with the target communities – from the young people in the villages. One of these teachers is 12-year old Vish: “I have been a volunteer teacher for 3 years. For a long time, I have seen students dropping out of school because they did not speak Khmer and were not able to follow the lessons. That is why I joined the NTFP trainings. During the day, I go to the nearest state school. At night, I teach the literacy classes in my village. My favourite part about teaching is to see the improvement in the knowledge and skills of the students particularly when they are eventually able to read and write in Kavet and Khmer. Sometimes it can be difficult at first to gain the respect of older students, but in the end I always manage to convince them with my knowledge and teaching skills. I am very thankful for NTFP and DVV International for being able to provide me with the opportunity to not only develop my own, but to develop the skills of others as well. My wish is to continue to support my community by making sure that everyone knows how to read and write, and in a few years to become a teacher at a state school.”