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KAPE in Cambodia - a new phase

I joined Oaktree as the new Beacon Schools Initiative (BSI) Partnership Manager in the first week of March.

I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see and support the great work of Kampuchean Action for Primary Education, our implementing partner in Cambodia for the BSI project. Upon diving into the work and meeting our partner for the first time, ecstatic was an understatement of what I felt. I was amazed and moved by the work that our partner does.

KAPE is the largest local education NGO in Cambodia, influencing over 150,000 children at 300 schools across 11 provinces at the primary, secondary and tertiary level. KAPE’s mission is to work with government, community and other stakeholders, to empower vulnerable children and youth to achieve their own right to a quality education through innovative approaches.

The Beacon Schools Initiative, with Oaktree’s support, has worked to transform three public secondary schools in rural Kampong Cham into ‘beacons’ or models of innovation for other schools in Cambodia to replicate. Through scholarships, teacher training, science labs, computer labs, bio-gardens, life skills, student councils, effective school management and community participation the three schools have made huge gains in shifting away from traditional rote learning and fostering teacher and student leadership and engagement.

Instead of working outside of the government, as many NGOs do, KAPE have worked with district, provincial and national levels of government to implement BSI as they recognise the need to influence systemic change and lift standards within the Cambodian public education sector. This way, disadvantaged children can access high standards of quality education (comparable with emerging private schools), in a way that they can afford and is driven by their community’s needs.

Having established a strong partnership, a two-year extension of BSI was recently prioritized by both Oaktree and KAPE to address recommendations from the 2013 Oaktree evaluation and to focus on sustaining the positive changes achieved in the three target schools. Phase II will further develop income generation activities and capacity, aiming to leave the schools in better positions to achieve ongoing economic viability, sustained attitudinal change, effective management, and inspire replication of the model following the phasing out of KAPE’s support.

We are only 3 months deep in the extension and it has already produced results that shine a light on the future of the three schools - plans for continuity and sustainability for the three schools are on the right track.

A new set of modern student desks (enough for 1 classroom) were provided to students in Skon High School . They now have a total of 7 classrooms that are fitted with these modern student desks. In addition to that, Skon HS has also received modern cupboards for the science lab. Infrastructure improvement was not the only good news this quarter; 305 students (54% or 164 of whom are girls) in Grades 7-11 have received ongoing support in the form of scholarship packages. The scholarship packages that were distributed last December 2014 consisted of school uniforms and stationery. There will be another distribution of scholarship packages on May 2015.

To assist in the financial sustainability of the project, KAPE has established an endowment fund that generates income (estimated to be $1000-2000 per year) for each school. Funds are raised and invested by a management system that was established and approved by the Board of Directors.

ICT Investments are paying off for teachers at the Demonstration School as their secondary school teachers score the highest of any of the sub-groups that have participated in the "ICT in Education Baseline Survey". KAPE believes that ICT is an integral part of learning for students and teachers alike to ensure that the education system available to the students is up to date with global advancements.

Not only is the BSI model flourishing in its operations but it is also gaining a great deal of attention from local and international organizations. The Minister of Education has been visiting frequently to study the model with intention to replicate the model in other areas of Cambodia. The advocacy of the model will pave a way for other “beacons” to be installed in other areas of Cambodia, and even in other countries (such as the High Schools Transformation Project implemented by one of our Timorese partners, Ba Futuru). This proves that one small action added with hope and hard work can turn into a great movement.

A new phase, a new Partnership Manager and most importantly a new stage. Changes may happen but the impact of the work we do will only progress further. We have a lot of work to do but the future of the schools seem bright and this will certainly not be the last positive report from the BSI Partnership.

Here's to fostering a new stage and keeping the Beacon's light shining bright.

Josh Pe Benito is the Beacon Schools Initiative (BSI) Partnership Manager.