By Victoria Laroche Creux,
As the sun rises in the small village of Phum Krouch, 70km away from Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh, Seng Noeun, a community preschool teacher, arrives at school with a full cart of students. Her incredible story started a few years ago when she realised that many parents could not bring their children to preschool.
“The grandparents of some of my students asked me to bring the children to the preschool as we were neighbours. So, I started to bring five children to the preschool every day in a borrowed cart,” explained Seng Noeun. “I expected that the number of children would decrease after some of them would be off to primary school, but it kept increasing,” she added.
Every day, the committed teacher now drives up to 12 children to preschool and has been doing so for the past five years in a borrowed cart attached to her motorbike. She picks up the students at their homes, three kilometres away from preschool.
Seng Noeun has been a dedicated teacher at Phum Krouch community preschool for the past 15 years. Out of 30 children in the class (15 girls and 15 boys), four have disabilities including one with severe disability and one with Down syndrome.
“At first, he couldn’t even hold a pen. He was sick often and absent four or five times during the month,” said Seng Noeun of one her students, five-year-old Chhun Sopheay.
Chhun Sopheay has been enrolled at Phum Krouch community preschool for the past two years. He was born prematurely at seven months old and has been suffering from different illnesses since his birth.
“But he is really improving and he will be able to join Grade 1 next year,” added Seng Noeun.
“I am very tired and having one student with a severe disability in the class this year is a lot of work. It is challenging but I get used to it and the children are performing well so I am happy,” said Seng Noeun.
“At first, I didn’t really want to be a teacher, but after two years I started to like teaching. Now, after 15 years, when I am on holidays I miss the children a lot” said the 55-year-old teacher, who also has six children of her own and ten grandchildren.
Seng Noeun participated in a training on inclusive education, implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) with the support from UNICEF and funding from SIDA and Primark. The programme aims to provide training to teachers on specific skills needed for teaching children with disabilities.
During her training, Seng Noeun learnt how to identify the signs of disability and impairments as well as ways to support children with disability. Her training involved disability typology, detection of disabilities, techniques to include children with disabilities in the classroom and referral options to social services including health centres.
Phum Krouch community preschool has been part of the inclusive education programme since 2011 and the preschool will from now on be recognized and financed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. More funds and school materials will then be allocated to Phum Krouch community preschool and that is all thanks to Seng Noeun’s determination to provide the best education to her students.