Although sixth-grader Non Sok can’t see the chalkboard or read regular textbooks, he has developed the skills he needs to integrate into a classroom after going to Cambodia’s first school for the blind in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampou commune.
The school for the blind, established by Krousar Thmey, an NGO that provides Cambodian children with educational and social support, has been open since 1994.
Non Sok is now one of the seven blind children in grade six at Rossey Sros primary school who uses a Braille textbook for reading and an abacus for arithmetic.
Rossey Sros primary school is the first public school in which blind students have been integrated into the classroom, with a total of 36 blind children at the school. So far, the efforts have been successful.
Hour Phanna, the sixth-grade teacher at Rossey Sros, said the other students haven’t displayed any signs of discrimination towards the blind students, and she feels comfortable teaching them after receiving training from teachers at the school for the blind.
But Ann D’orgeval, communications director for Krousar Thmey, acknowledged that this is not likely to be the case at all public schools. She said Rossey Sros and the school for the blind, which have 58 blind children total, are very close to each other and the directors communicate every week.
“Everyone involved in this project is very dedicated. I don’t know that most teachers would be as cooperative,” she said.
Most of the children who came to the school were from poor families, families who were at first reluctant to send their children to school.
“We would go to the villages and beg parents. They said it was useless, that they would finish primary school and then not be able to get jobs, so what was the point,” said Krousar Thmey director Prum Thary.
But D’orgeval said there are employment opportunities for blind children. There are three areas that the school is concentrating on for vocational skills—massage, music, and translating English Braille to Khmer and vice versa, she said. The school is also equipped with computers that pronounce the letter the student is pressing on the keyboard.
“Now blind students even have the opportunity to become writers,” said D’orgeval. “We are trying to change people’s mentality.”
The school is home to a Braille library, where regular textbooks are translated into Braille.
Each student has four Braille textbooks for Khmer literature, math, applied science and social science.
Kong Bunthy, the technician at the library, said it takes a long time to print one Braille textbook, as there is only one printer and Braille textbooks are almost four times as long as regular ones.
“And the Ministry of Education keeps changing the texts,” added D’orgeval, “meaning we have to change ours, and this is a very big problem for us.”