For decades the books and textbooks essential for a good education have been scarce in Cambodia, and the available materials lacking in many aspects. This is particularly the case when it comes to educational books for children under the age of 5.
Tan Ponleuk, owner of Ta Prom bookshop, says book publishing is a dying art and small-run childrens’ books were among the earliest casualties. Yet while most new children’s educational materials are geared for digital media such as computers and smartphones, Ponleuk says her family’s love for paper books has inspired them to fill a gap.
To date, they have published nearly a half a dozen books, including three titles aimed at educating children under 5, teaching the alphabet, vowels and numbers. The books are printed in primary colours with pictures of people, animals, plants and food.
“It’s an object of interest to young children when they read these kinds of books,” said Ponleuk.
The three book titles for young children were published in 2017. Copies are sold in many bookstores in Phnom Penh for one dollar each.
Hok Sothi, director of Sipar, an independent publishing institution focused on a number of educational documents and books, said his organisation has worked closely with the Ministry of Education to collect and publish educational books for students. It has also begun publishing its own books for younger children.
He said the books depict the general anatomy of humans, jobs, animals, nature and everything around us. They are published in vivid colors and directed towards children aged 3 and older.
Every title Sipar publishes is “embedded with pedagogical values essential for the education of young children, and these books require the assistance of guardians, parents, or older siblings to help show the youngsters the way, by reading to them page by page and gently pointing out the pictures, the names, and letters to them so that their cognitive functions can start absorbing all of the information”.
Sothi said in accordance with standards of pedagogy, children must become accustomed to looking at pictures, texts and letters.
“The important work will be in Kindergarten, where children aren’t required to start leaning letters, or numbers. Instead the focus will be on having fun, watching, and listening to educational contents,” he said. “Once children become accustomed to seeing letters and pictures, they will be better at remembering and understanding their lessons than the children who never went to Kindergarten in the first place.”