- POSTED: 13 Sep 2013 17:54
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Poverty poses a big challenge to English-language education in Cambodia, where quality English lessons are only available in expensive private schools. But not all hope is lost as individuals and NGOs are doing their best to help the country’s poor learn the language.
PHNOM PENH: English will be the working language throughout Southeast Asia in 2015 when the ASEAN Economic Community is formed.
In Cambodia, however, poverty still poses a big challenge to the quality of English-language education, usually only available in expensive private schools.
Some 200 children take turns fighting for a space in a tiny unit in northern Phnom Penh, where they learn how to read, write and speak English once a week.
For these children, the small room may be the best English school they will ever attend.
English lesson is a great privilege in this Southeast Asian kingdom. Although it is commonly taught in public schools, teaching quality is usually very low.
To receive English schooling, around US$1,000 per year is needed. That amount might be affordable in developed countries, but not in Cambodia where one third of its 15-million population earns less than US$1 per day.
But at Tinath New Generation Academy (TNGA), poor children aged between six and 18 years old can enjoy that privilege for free.
Classes are conducted during the week by 30-year-old Tinath Em, who is the director of the school.
In Cambodia, English isn't taught in public schools until the secondary level.
But the teaching quality is low and the drop-out rate is high as poor students tend to leave school after grade 6 to work.
Tinath said: "I didn't finish high-school. I wanted to continue… to study English but I met a problem with my family because my family was very poor. I couldn't afford (to attend school). Later on when I decided to stop (studying), I came down to the city to find a job. And I saved up some money and I went to the private school to study English."
But not everyone can achieve what Tinath has.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world – 80 per cent of its population lives in rural areas and 20 per cent are trapped in extreme poverty.
Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are helping the poor build a better future.
World Vision Cambodia’s country director Jason Evans said: "It's a country which (needs) NGO support and wouldn't be in a place it is today, socially, without that support.
"What we do is we try to work with the community to identify those families who are most likely to encourage their children to bring an income to the family. We'll really focus on those families to try to help them to increase income, so the children might be released to go back to school."
With their help, some 200 families manage to get out of poverty every year.
English skills can also be a way out of poverty, especially with the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community.
Tinath said: "For people who can't speak English, they can get only about US$100-150 a month. But if we can speak English, we can find better jobs and maybe we can get more, like double salary or something like that."
TNGA has equipped some 2,000 children with basic English skills. Some have become English teachers, while others are working in big companies.