Meet the Faces of Cambodia’s Future

Through life skills education, Cambodian adolescents are building confidence

By Rachel McCarthy

Siem Reap, Cambodia, November 2018 — Life skills are the skills needed to deal with the challenges of everyday life, whether at school, at work or in our personal lives. They include self-reflection, critical thinking, problem solving and interpersonal skills.

Such skills help students develop both professional competencies for the world of work and social-emotional competencies to enrich their adult lives.

In recognition of the importance of these skills, particularly for adolescents, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport recently made ‘local life skills education’ a core subject in the Cambodian national curriculum.

With funding support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and with technical support from UNICEF, local life skills are taught in both primary and lower secondary schools and involve not just teachers and students but local communities — school directors, teachers, parents and school committee members get together to determine what is most relevant for their children to learn in school as part of life skills education.

From school to school, topics range from social issues like addiction and drug use and domestic violence to social enterprise, like raising livestock, food production and establishing small businesses. As part of local life skills, students engage in a learning process which involves interviewing community experts, running their own community campaigns and critical reflection on what they’ve learnt, often as part of presentations involving their community.

Below, Cambodian adolescents reflect on the impact of local life skills education and how they see their futures taking shape.

Kaing Youra, 14 years old, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap

Youra during a study group discussion at Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School. © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy

What have you learnt in life skills education?

“In life skills, I learnt about food production and developing a small business. These are key skills to generate an income. I also learnt about the dangers of drug use and the impacts of drug use in our wider community.

Life skills has helped me feel more confident. I’m more active, more engaged and willing to volunteer in my community.

Overall, I think life skills promotes braveness among the students and a confidence to ask questions. This we can apply in other subjects, like maths. In all subjects, students are livelier now, there’s more participation.

Working together, I’ve also learnt about the importance of key values, like integrity. I’ve seen other students return lost items. This might not have happened in the past. We’re becoming more responsible.”

What would you like to do when you finish school?

“Whatever profession you choose to follow, you need a teacher to help you get there. By becoming a teacher, I can help others become what they want to be.”

Tab Tola, 14 years old, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap

Tab Tola, 14 years old, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy

What have you learnt from life skills education?

“Life skills helps me feel brave, improves my communication and helps me understand better the process of learning. Because of life skills, we have more respect and more motivation to do things honestly, regardless of recognition.

For example, we learnt how to grow chili and we learnt how to do this for ourselves. And when we learnt about drug use, we didn’t only sit in a classroom and listen. We went and interviewed local police and gained statistics on the incidence of drug use in our local community. We also created our own study groups to help coach each other.

I think through life skills we learn to work hard and with honesty, without a sense of recognition or reward. This is integrity.”

What would you like to do when you finish school? How do you see the future for Cambodian women and men?

“I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I remember when my grandmother was sick and I was the only one able to help her read English to identify her medicines. I want to be able to help others, like my grandmother.

On men and women, I believe there should be no distinction between the role of men and women in society. We need to support each other to do what we want.”

Tab Tola with his friends during a study group discussion, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap. © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy

Paaet, 14 years old, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap

Paaet, 14 years old, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap. © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy

What do you think are the most important skills adolescents today should learn?

“Respect for others and discipline. I think it’s important we work hard to support our families and that we study hard.”

What have you gained from life skills education?

“Before I studied life skills, I was shy and I didn’t do many activities. But I felt encouraged by our school director to do practical research, to interview people in our community, to share experiences I learnt about with my school community and then to share these findings with the wider community.

I’ve also been able to apply what I’ve learnt. For example, I learnt about the causes of school dropout in secondary school, which helps me understand this issue and help address it in our community.”

Paaet doing homework, Aranh Raingsey Lower Secondary School, Siem Reap. © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy

[Question asked to Paaet’s parents] What sort of a future would you like to see for your son?

“We’d just like to see him be a good person. We hope he can study hard, get a job and be a caring and respectful person.

We believe that those who are well educated know how to treat others with respect and kindness.”

Paaet sits with his parents at their family home, Siem Reap. © UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Rachel McCarthy