Students get textbooks amid Covid

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A school used as a quarantine site in Banteay Meanchey province. Photo supplied

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – supported by Sweden and UNICEF – are working to protect children’s education by providing textbooks in core subjects to prevent students from dropping out of school while their schools are being used as Covid-19 quarantine centres.

A joint press release from the education ministry, the Swedish government and UNICEF on February 24 said although the new academic year began on January 11, there are 13 primary schools, 18 lower secondary schools and 19 upper secondary schools in the north-western provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Oddor Meanchey that could not open as scheduled.

It said those schools could not open because they are being used as quarantine sites for Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand as part of the government’s ongoing Covid-19 transmission prevention efforts.

The education ministry, it said, rapidly undertook an assessment of students needs who are currently unable to attend these schools and access to textbooks was identified as one of the most pressing challenges while students are required to learn at home or another school nearby.

To address this challenge, UNICEF, with funding support from Sweden, has procured new textbooks for 50 primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools.

These textbooks cover grades 1 through 12 in core subjects. A total of 35,055 textbooks will be distributed to students in the north-western provinces – helping 32,486 students to continue their studies.

Education minister Hang Chuon Naron said Cambodia welcomes the additional support from UNICEF and Sweden for these schools and students in the border provinces.

He said despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, all efforts to keep children learning must be made while also making sure that they are safe from the virus.

Swedish ambassador to Cambodia, Bjorn Haggmark said education is a fundamental human right but Covid-19 continues to disrupt the schooling of thousands of children in Cambodia.

“Sweden is glad to assist Cambodia with this important emergency response – ensuring that girls and boys on the Covid-19 frontlines have adequate learning resources to continue their studies,” he said.

UNICEF Representative in Cambodia Foroogh Foyouzat said the urgency in responding to Covid-19 has often led to disruptions and that it was crucial to re-imagine education to fit these changing circumstances.

She said every child has the right to an education and concerted efforts are needed to see those rights fulfilled.

“I encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to examine all other options to support the safe return of workers as using schools for quarantine centres should be a measure of last resort, so that school closures and their impacts are minimised,” she said.

According to Foyouzat, children’s education was severely impacted by the pandemic globally in 2020 by huge numbers of school closures.

She said UNICEF is advocating for the continuation of education around the world as well as rebuilding and reimagining the education system so that it serves all children and is more resistant to such shocks in the future.