Kampot, Cambodia, December 2016 – Nine-year-old Nuy Visith Ranksey is the perfect example of a contented child growing up in an idyllic setting. Nuy lives in the tiny village of Chheuteal in Kampot province. The locality boasts a stunning vista of lush paddy fields, abundant coconut trees and rugged mountains.
She lives with her parents and younger siblings in a small house near to Wat Stung Primary School. Nuy normally wakes up at around 5.30am, eats breakfast with her family and sets off for the nearby school by foot. “I like going to school. I enjoy studying, in particular I like studying mathematics,” said Nuy, her eyes shining brightly as she spoke optimistically about her school day.
The situation, however, was not always so favourable in the past. A large percentage of students at Wat Stung Primary School did not enjoy attending classes in the same way as Nuy does now.
Teacher Rey Sokhon said: “Lots of students used to be absent from school. Students seemed to be afraid of the teachers and they did not appear to enjoy studying.” Ms. Rey has been a primary school teacher for over 20 years and currently teaches the Grade one to six students.
“I used to blame students for any misbehaviour. For example, when they did not listen to me and played during classes. I did not know how to manage classrooms or what to do but to blame the students.”
In Cambodia, some teachers use violent methods, both verbal and physical, to discipline students and manage the classroom.
Violence against children in its various forms is a serious concern nationwide. The Cambodia Violence against Children Study (CVACS) conducted in 2013 revealed that one in two children has experienced physical violence prior to the age 18. This includes documented cases of severe beating, hitting and slapping.
Violence takes many forms, including emotional violence such as shouting, attributing blame and threatening behaviour. One in four children in Cambodia has experienced this kind of emotional violence prior to the age of 18.
Violence against children is fundamentally wrong and can have a multitude of long-lasting adverse impacts on a child’s well-being in various aspects, affecting not only the child but also the entire country. Violence suffered in childhood often leads to a broad range of behavioral, psychological and physical problems in adolescence and adulthood.
Unfortunately, teachers were found to be one of the most common perpetrators of violence against Cambodian children outside their home environment, according to CVACS. Violence undermines the purpose of education and limits the ability of children to learn by making them unhappy or frightened. It also affects children’s attendance and school completion rates.
To reduce violence against children in schools, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) is promoting an approach called ‘positive discipline’, which guides children’s behaviour by focusing on the overall development of the child and creating positive teacher-student relationships. This approach helps teachers manage classrooms more effectively by managing anger; listening to children; providing clear guidelines for acceptable behaviour; and encouraging them to learn, rather than using violence to reinforce learning.
With financial and technical assistance from UNICEF, the MoEYS has developed an in-service teacher training package on positive discipline and effective classroom management. Over the 2015-16 school year, training was provided for teachers and school directors in 172 primary schools in the three provinces of Kampot, Battambang and Prey Veng. This involved a total of 1,608 teachers and 265 school directors and it had a positive impact on approximately 51,000 students.
The training enabled teachers at Wat Stung Primary School to understand what violence means and how violence affects a child’s well-being, both in the short and long-term.
Teachers have already started using alternative methods to discipline students and manage classrooms in a positive manner, instead of resorting to violence and this approach has helped to create a better relationship between teachers and students.
For instance, students and teachers have collectively developed classroom rules which clearly articulate appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the classroom. Students tend to follow these rules as they have been actively engaged in developing them with their teachers.
“The training made a big difference at school,” said Ms. Rey.
“Teacher-student relationships have improved significantly, not only in my classes but also throughout the school. Every teacher has started using positive discipline at school. I feel that I get more respect from students than before,” she added.
After the training, Ms. Rey started listening to her students more because she now believes it is important to understand and respond to the different needs each individual student has. She now uses positive words more frequently when communicating with students to acknowledge their achievements.
As a result, students have become more comfortable at school and in communicating with their teachers. After she adopted the ‘positive discipline’ approach, Ms. Rey noticed that students started approaching her more often and more of them asked for her help in solving their personal problems .
Nuy speaks glowingly of her teacher.
She said: “I like my teacher [Ms. Rey Sokhon]. She is supportive and helpful. If students do not understand anything and students ask any questions, she does not use violence and explains with patience and takes enough time with students until students understand.”
The training has also yielded positive results in improving student-student relationships.
School Director Sam Setha said he has noticed very optimistic changes in both students and teachers. He said that when teachers stopped using violent discipline methods, students stopped fighting with each other.
In addition, students have become more confident in their approach to studying. Since the training, their learning outcomes have also improved and more students attend school regularly due to the constructive change in the school environment.
Ms. Rey said: “Students are motivated by teachers and they are not absent from classes anymore. Students in my classes do their homework more frequently than before. They seem to enjoy studying now.”
Due to the success of the training programme, MoEYS and UNICEF will scale up the in-service training to approximately 800 primary schools in other provinces by the end of 2018.
Through UNICEF’s strong advocacy, positive discipline training will also be integrated into pre-service training. UNICEF also hopes that the programme will be expanded to include pre-primary schools and secondary schools in the near future.