COVID -19 Situation in Cambodia
After a year of no deaths related and minimal cases, COVID-19 cases have swelled to nearly 20,000 and 126 deaths. The outbreak was a result of four people escaping quarantine, known as the February 20th event. Now the illness has spread to every province in Cambodia.
As cases escalated, Cambodia reported its first death from COVID-19 in March. To fight against the spread of the virus several decisions have been made. A travel ban between the provinces as well as curfew and lockdown in the major cities were introduced in April.
Siem Reap has locked down three communes in the city for two weeks as well. Sala Kamreuk, the commune Anjali House and its families call home, was one of the three. Many markets and businesses had to shut their doors for two weeks as well. Things are beginning to reopen, but the threat of spread is still imminent.
The worldwide pause on international tourism devastated the Siem Reap economy in 2020. Now, families face even more challenges. Schools remain closed, many markets shut for weeks at a time. Even the minimal amount of domestic tourism occurring has reduced.
Before the pandemic, poverty had been declining in Cambodia. Nonetheless, many households remained slightly above the poverty line. These families had limited ability to absorb economic shocks. The World Bank stated in 2019 any negative shock reducing consumption per capita by 2,000 riel ($0.50) would double the poverty rate. A report by UNICEF found 87% of urban households said their income has been reduced by half due to COVID-19.
Tourism and hospitality is the second-largest growth driver in Cambodia. Thus, the pandemic disrupted the economy in Siem Reap, which is Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination. In April 2020, tourism reduced 99.6 percent from the previous year. The closures of markets and schools also caused shockwaves through the economy. Many parents were now left without childcare, further preventing them from working.
The Impact of School Closures on Cambodian Students
The pandemic has exposed inequalities across the world. Many children do not have internet access, a suitable place to study, or basic needs met. Reduced interaction between students and teachers can decrease students’ engagement in their school work. Many households had to work more and more to provide for their families and had less time to stay with their children or support their studies. When schools closed, many students from very poor families used this time to work to help their household.
Short openings just to close again
Schools first closed their doors during the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Schools were just beginning to reopen when there was an outbreak of COVID following the November 28 cluster hit, forcing schools to quickly return to remote learning. Finally there seemed to be hope and schools reopened in January. Students began to adjust to the new system and had 2 months in schools before the latest, and most severe outbreak began.
Schools have been closed in Siem Reap since March 20th, as well as the gate of Anjali House. Once again, distance learning was in order as it was in the first schools closure in 2020.
Barriers to remote learning
As parents worldwide have discovered, remote learning is difficult. Cambodia has its own challenges when tackling remote learning. Internet connectivity issues, lack of content knowledge of caregivers, lack of caregivers’ time to support learning at home are just some of the challenges.
A single smartphone shared by the family is many students’ only connection online. Issues arise when more than one child needs to study at the same time, and even worse when the family has no smartphone at all.
Increased risk of student dropout
The result is a high risk of student dropout compared to when school is in session. Dropout risk increased particularly for primary and pre-primary school students. This could be a result of the difficulty engaging children in online teaching and the amount of parental support required. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were also more likely to drop out. As many children from very poor families are using their time during school closures to work, to contribute to the family income.
Anjali in Action
Online learning becoming the norm
After a year of school closures, teachers and students are more familiar with online learning. Teachers conduct their classes using services such as Telegram, Zoom, and Facebook Messenger. Connectivity issues remain a problem. Using group chats in addition to video learning has helped overcome this. Teachers pose questions in the chat and students respond via voice messaging to practice their speaking.
Staff remains at Anjali so parents can come in and receive online learning support. Not all parents are familiar with the programs that have become essential to daily life across the world, such as Zoom. Recently, a father came into Anjali because the Zoom audio was not working. Our staff was able to change the settings on the phone so his children could hear the lesson. These small things can make a huge difference in the lives of our students.
Not all students have access to online classes. Anjali makes sure these students can also continue learning. Teachers prepare homework packets that families can pick up weekly. They have a chance to discuss any questions they have with the teacher. For some students, this is the only schoolwork they are receiving because not all public schools have distributed such packets. These weekly packets are essential to review concepts and keep the brain active.
The power of regular communication
Socio-emotional learning is a key aspect in supporting students and preventing them from dropping out. By having someone that they know cares about them, is encouraging and supportive and in contact with them frequently is key to students’ success.
Our teachers are in regular contact with their students. The teacher checks in with the students individually when the child misses class or does not complete their assignments. To make sure all children are engaged, our teachers will begin to visit families one at a time to catch up with the students. This will give them time to ask any questions they have, go over learning material, and show how much we care.
One of the most significant changes Anjali has seen over the last few years is how parents are prioritizing their children’s education. Not only do our social workers and teachers work with the children, but also the parents. They help the parents understand their roles in their child’s education. Teachers explain homework and answer any technology questions they might have. It is a team effort of students, teachers, and parents to keep the children learning!
While the world is COVID fatigued, Cambodia is now facing its first big wave. We are taking each step day by day, adjusting to the ever-changing situation. One thing is for sure, we will not stop doing what we can do to support our families, and see our students grow to be amazing future leaders.
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