- September 20, 2021 9:35 AM
- June 15, 2021 4:43 PM
- May 10, 2020 7:43 AM
Some students cannot afford while others cannot handle online classes, a school representative says
PHNOM PENH--The number of student monks dropping out of school at a Buddhist high school in Siem Reap City has gone through an exponential increase during the pandemic.
Bun Pices, administrator and teacher at the Rajabo Buddhist High School in Siem Reap, said that, during the 2020-2021 academic years, the number of students who have abandoned their studies has gone up significantly.
“The report I received from teachers has shown that the number is 72, much higher than that of the previous years, which was between 20 and 25,” he said. “But this is not official yet because some students may contact us to re-register after they see the announcement”–the school plans to use social media to reach those students and check whether they plan to return.
According to Pices, there are many possible reasons for this, including difficulties to access online classes.
“One of the problems is that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to shift from physical-class to online teaching,” he said. “Some student monks could not study properly as they have no money to top up for internet connection. Some others have been trying to adapt [to online classes] but have gotten tired of it.
“And some others have had to abandon monkhood and go back to their hometowns to seek jobs,” Pices said.
Still, there have been a few who were able to pass the exam under the complementary education program at public schools and can now pursue university studies, he added.
One of them is Venerable Chan Yet, who left Rajabo Buddhist High School after he successfully passed the complementary education exam—students out of high school may take this exam to qualify for university.
He acknowledged that the number of dropouts has been very high this year, adding that, while reasons for doing so have varied, some student monks have been forced to give up due to financial problems and poor internet connections.
“Before the pandemic, student monks from different provinces normally came to Siem Reap City to study,” Yet said. “But…this year, we still have online study. That is why many of them decided to go back to their hometowns. So, it is normal that they struggle with poor internet connections. And some have made other personal choices [and] quit.”
Khem Sroem—a fellow at the NGO Tech for Cambodia who has been conducting a study community initiative to help teachers improve their digital-teaching skills and cope with virtual-teaching challenges—said that student monks dropping out of school during the pandemic is really a concern.
As a former monk who studied at the Rajabo Buddhist High School, Sroem agreed that economic factors and students’ digital learning capacity have been factors that have led students to give up their studies.
“During this pandemic, there has been no ceremonies and other religious events, and this means that monks have also faced financial hardship as no donation has been offered,” he said. And some student monks simply don’t have money to pay for internet service, he added.
Gaps in digital-teaching knowhow may also be an issue among senior teachers, Sroem said.
But he agreed that some student monks may have other personal reasons to drop out and that one of them may be laziness, that is, not making the effort to study online.
Communities of learners should be created
When asked whether the Rajabo Buddhist High School has specific plans to assist students to study online or to modify teaching methods to help reduce the dropout rate, Pices responded that the school has no specific plan at this point but will continue online classes even though this remains challenging for many senior Buddhist monks and teachers.
Pices went on to say that his team has also tried to reach out to students as much as they possibly can. “We only can contact the heads of pagodas where those student monks stay to confirm if they really have quit their studies and find out about their problems.
“But we strongly hope that the pandemic will be over soon so that they can have the physical classroom [to study] and can return as normally,” he said.
However, Sroem believes that each pagoda has a role to play to support student monks and intervene to help them during this difficult time.
“There should be a community of learners at pagodas, in which student monks can be given support in terms of internet connections during study time,” he said. “It is possible if each pagoda’s committee has a plan and pays attention to this issue.”
Sroem went on to say that students themselves also need to study hard and remain committed to learning even though schools are closed.
“It requires them to have a strong commitment and not to be careless,” Sroem stressed. “They can’t just wait until schools are reopened in order to start studies.”
Private and public educational institutions at all levels across Cambodia have been ordered to close on March 20, 2021, one month after the Feb. 20 community outbreak was declared. Since schools have been closed, classes have continued virtually as during previous shutdowns.
In view of the pandemic, it remains unclear at this point when schools will be allowed to reopen throughout the country.