Government Takes Over Multilingual School Program

The government launched a national plan for multilingual education in primary schools on Tuesday in an attempt to better integrate ethnic minorities into the public education system, taking over a program started by two children’s organizations.

The programs that comprise the Multilingual Education National Action Plan were officially transferred from Care and Unicef to the Ministry of Education at a ceremony in Kratie province. The organizations, however, will continue to train teachers and develop the curriculum in which students are taught in their mother tongue during primary school.

Debora Comini, Unicef’s representative to Cambodia, said in a press release that the action plan showed the government’s commitment to providing a basic education to ethnic minority children.

“The next important step will be to ensure that the Government allocates sufficient budget to expand the multilingual education programme in a sustainable manner,” she said.

The program, which started with six pilot schools in Ratanakkiri province in 2002, is currently being used in 88 schools in Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri, Stung Treng, Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces, said Jans Noorlander, program director at Care. It now includes preschool and primary school curriculums in five languages—Brov, Tampuen, Kreung, Kavet and Bunong, he added.

Students initially do course work in their mother tongue, and Khmer is gradually added until they are being taught completely in Khmer by the time they enter secondary school. Mr. Noorlander explained that ethnic minority students often face hurdles including language barriers and cultural differences from their classmates.

“If you learn through a different language, it really holds you back and you drop [out] easily,” he said. “But it’s also that you step from your culture into a completely alien culture.”

While all of the multilingual community schools already operate under the Education Ministry, most with funding from the organizations, Mr. Noorlander said the launch of the national action plan was “really pinning the ministry down to take their ownership.”

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said on Tuesday that 34 of the schools would be funded by the government by the end of March, adding to 30 already operating without support from the NGOs.

A joint statement released on Tuesday by the organizations and the ministry said that more than 5,500 children have graduated from or currently attend the multilingual schools, while 150 teachers have been trained to teach the curriculum.

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