Forward-thinking Principal and his team innovate and improve their school and have no plans to stop here!
On 17 March 2016, SeeBeyondBorders visited Prek Norin primary school to discuss the changes that have been made since the new Principal took on the role a year and a half ago. Prek Norin is in Ek Phnom district and has 19 staff and 530 students.
Moa Sokhouen, previously a secretary in the school office, became Principal of Prek Norin in October 2014. Since then, he and his team have worked hard to improve both the quality of teaching and the school environment, much of which has been with the support and encouragement of SeeBeyondBorders.
Already, walking through the school, the improvements – as well as the ongoing efforts – are clear to see. There is a new building currently under construction (with government support) which will house kindergarten, there is a newly expanded play area (formerly a rice field – one rice field remains) and there is a colourful area with painted swans and plants (some of which are cleverly constructed into maths symbols), which we later discover is the bio-garden. The paths are littered with brightly painted car tyres, and there is a large cage which collects plastic bottles, clearly highlighting the efforts made to recycle at this school.
Prek Norin and its grounds look clean, tidy and colourful – and this, the Principal says, encourages the children to respect it more. SeeBeyondBorders has helped with fixing a roof, adding doors and painting the classrooms, and last month sent a corporate project team in to help with concreting two classroom floors – a task that took place on condition that the Principal would create an enlarged play area – which after 150 trucks of soil delivered to the school is almost complete. Additionally, Prek Norin is enrolled in SeeBeyondBorders’ Teach the Teacher program and has three mentor teachers supporting seven mentees and also benefits from SeeBeyondBorders’ sports program. Moa Sokhouen is grateful and happy with SeeBeyondBorders’ help – what he likes particularly is that we don’t set rules, but provide help and support for example suggesting teaching methodologies and providing workshops for new teachers.
It is clear that a lot of effort has already gone into improving the school and it is encouraging to hear that the Principal and his team have no plans to stop here. Current initiatives include a charity box which raises money to help the less wealthy students with resources for school (such as books and pens), and a suggestions box for students to leave a message if they are not happy about something – a recent complaint has been that their marks haven’t been high enough! The school also promotes honesty among the students – if they find a ‘lost’ item they are encouraged to hand it into a teacher. When the owner of the item is found the two children (finder and owner) are united in front of the other students so that the owner can receive thanks and the finder be publicly commended for their honesty. Other future ideas include building a statue of a prominent figure (such as a Buddha), planting more flowers in maths formula shapes, adding a school information board, a water station where the children can wash and clean their hands, thus improving hygiene.
One of the key things Moa Sokhouen seems to get right is communication and engagement – with parents, students and the community – an area SeeBeyondBorders encourages and helps schools with as necessary. One initiative that will be commencing on a monthly basis is meeting the parents of both under-performing/commonly absent and over-performing students, to understand why the former might be struggling at school and with the latter, to encourage the parents to keep supporting their children. This is not common practice in Cambodia. His strong relationship with the Buddhist community, in particular the monks, has led to the monks coming into school each Thursday to teach life skills, part of the MOEYS (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport) curriculum. The presence of the monks, says Moa Sokhouen, also improves the behaviour of the children. The increasing support of the community over the past year and half can also be attributed to his Moa Sokhouen open and transparent communication with them. He meets often with the village chief and if there is something he wants to do at the school he always checks with the community; he is sure to outline what it is, why it is needed and a breakdown of the costs. What’s more he is open to discussing ideas further. The community supported the school and School Support Committee with the soil project financially and this is in no doubt down to the open communication he had with them in advance. It is no wonder the engagement has improved!
But Moa Sokhouen admits there are challenges, especially as he is still relatively new in the position. He feels he could benefit from more leadership training and moreover, he knows there is a lot more work to be done at the school.
Prek Norin is a great example of the initiatives that can be implemented to improve the quality of teaching and the general school environment. Moa Sokhouen and his team are a great inspiration and we look forward to continuing to support them and seeing what other plans they have up their sleeves!