Cambodia: Looking at Inclusive Education through the Lens of an Expert

Education is the fundamental right to which every child is entitled. In Cambodia, however, a number of children are not able to attend school simply because they have disabilities. In hopes of integrating Children with Disabilities (referred to as CWDs hereafter) into regular schools, AAR Japan has been promoting Inclusive Education (IE) in Khsach Kandal District in Kandal Province surrounding the capital, Phnom Penh where we have targeted four elementary schools since February this year. For IE to become an entrenched part of the community, the existing status quo across the educational institution must be changed entirely. This includes awareness-raising, promoting understanding and cooperation on the community level. Teachers must be trained on basic knowledge about disability as well as particular teaching methods effective for CWDs. School buildings must also be designed in a way that facilitates the physical mobility of CWDs. The Cambodian government commenced its work on the promotion of IE in 2008. Nevertheless, the government has only channeled its limited resources to finance the IE programs in restricted areas due to the insufficient funding.

AAR Japan invited Associate Professor, Jun KAWAGUCHI from the Graduate School of Osaka University, to hold training-workshops to enhance the understanding of disability in the respective communities. How should IE be within the present context of Cambodia? How should any progressive steps be made for the better future for CWDs? We asked the professor to share his insights.

Jun KAWAGUCHI (Right) gives a lecture on IE.
(Khsach Kandal District, Cambodia,  May 7th, 2015)

Inclusive Education in the making

“On this trip, I visited several schools and gave lectures on IE in Khsach Kandal District. I would like to share my experiences, observations as well as the future prospect for IE in this country.”

”My talk at the workshop centered around the very basics of IE to familiarize the attendees with the idea. School principals, community members, parents and government officials participated in the lecture and lively discussions. The participants were grounded in that they acknowledged the existing challenges and obstacles as opposed to being in denial or overly idealistic. The participants stressed the importance of strengthening the community as an agent of social change. Building upon the community-based approach, they brainstormed and considered a variety of possibilities to advance the quality of education. Meanwhile, it became apparent the immense dependency on international NGOs which necessitates the community to play a central role.”

”During my stay in Cambodia, I visited schools to observe classes and conducted interviews with teachers to understand the reality surrounding CWDs such as institutional policies, teachers' attitude, as well as treatment of students with special needs. What I found out was twofold:

1) The school enrollment rate among children with less complexity is presumably much higher than those with heavier disabilities. Schools exclusively accept children with minor degree of disability, making it more difficult for other children with more severe form of disability to attend school. 
2) There is a mutual sense of distrust between school officials and parents, which is often seen in the context of underdeveloped countries. School officials blame the parents of CWDs for not letting them go to school. On the contrary, the parents blame the school for not having well-equipped systems, policies and teachers in place to provide adequate education for CWDs. ”

”Cambodia still is in an embryonic stage of establishing IE as a social norm. It is a gradual process that involves various stakeholders. Placing blame on one another does not help. It needs all stakeholders to be mutually cooperative and understanding to advance the process. ”

”I can see how AAR Japan is playing a critical role in enhancing cooperation among the stakeholders. The organization rather plays a “backstage role” to assist the community in realizing its potentials and achieving its visions than acting as a problem solver. I was very pleased with AAR Japan’s approach that encourages the community members to think for themselves and be the agent of change instead of imposing solutions to problems at hand. I was also impressed by AAR Japan staff who are dedicated and committed to the community they serve. They were very efficient in getting things done: preparation for the workshop; clean-up after the event; effective facilitation of discussions; and demonstrating sensitivity to the needs of the community members.” 

Students at Preah Prasob Primary School that AAR Japan works with.
(April 27th, 2015)
”Such people as AAR Japan staff are very valuable in building the capacity of a local community to practice IE. Inclusive Education, in the most simplified term, is about how much the community can accommodate a wide range of needs each CWD has. I hope more people with such qualities will help Cambodia make education inclusive of all children who have the universal right to learn.”

Associate Professor of Human Science at the Graduate School of Osaka University. KAWAGUCHI has researched extensively on Inclusive Education in under-developed nations. He previously worked as a researcher for JICA Research Institute. He earned his PhD from Waseda University Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies.

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Karen Kubota  and Ms. Sakura Koyama

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.