- 07/09/2019 8:39 PM
- 30/12/2019 3:46 PM
- 19/09/2019 9:58 AM
PHNOM PENH—The NGO Krousar Thmey has officially turned over the management of its five schools and specialized classes for blind and deaf students to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, reducing its program to a few child protection initiatives.
After 28 years of activity that started in 1991 with an orphanage that Benoit Duchateau-Arminjon, the NGO founder, had set up in a camp for Cambodian refugees in Thailand, the NGO is passing on to the ministry its school programs, limiting its activities to child-protection projects, he said, having provided support to more than 20,000 children and young people over the years.
Concluding a process that began in 2016, Krousar Thmey has now transferred management of its “special schools” which were founded in 1994 with programs from kindergarten to high school, the concept being to teach students braille or sign language and then facilitate their integration into regular public-school classes. They are located in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap City, Kompong Cham province and Battambang province.
Queen Norodom Monineath visits one of Krousar Thmey's schools accompanied by Benoit Duchateau-Arminjon a few years ago. Photo credit: Krousar Thmey
Why the transfer?
The last phase of the transfer will have taken nearly five months to complete, Duchateau-Arminjon said in interview on Dec. 12. But doing so was, he said, “the goal from the start. I do believe that this is the task of the Ministry of Education and not an NGO.”
But in view of the challenges the ministry faced with the country’s regular school system over the last three decades, the question was whether the ministry was ready and willing to take on the responsibility of Krousar Thmey’s special class programs.
“If you look at 2011, [the ministry] was not ready,” he said. Which is why the NGO planned a strategy that would take place over 10 years, he added.
“In the beginning, it wasn’t the state, but the representatives of the state we were working with,” Duchateau-Arminjon said. “[A]nd step by step, we wanted to formally involve the [special] schools so they would be part of the national curriculum.”
In 2011, he appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying he was willing to work for another 10 years free of charge for Krousar Thmey on one condition. “I wanted the involvement of the Ministry of Education…[that would] go progressively and one day [we] would be able to transfer the schools.”
In fact, Hun Sen has supported Krousar Thmey from the start: He is the symbolic “godfather” of the special school in Phnom Penh, Duchateau-Arminjon said.
-- What will change with the transfer?
“The Ministry of Education was ready for the transfer in 2019 because within the Ministry, you have a lot of people who are involved and are dedicated, who have goodwill toward [special class] education,” he said.
Plans are to turn these special schools into “resource centers for blind or deaf education,” where students with visual disabilities will study until grade 2 and students with hearing disabilities until grade 4, according to Krousar Thmey’s “Memo of Transfer,” the goal being to integrate these students into the public school system.
The special schools are meant to serve as training centers for public school teachers “for special needs or disability related activities,” the memo read.
“Normal teachers in inclusive classes are not trained enough to take care of handicapped people,” Duchateau-Arminjon said. “So we are always providing additional training... [From now on] this task will be taken over by National Institute for Special Education.
How is the Transfer Done?
“When the existing schools will be under the ministry, they will continue providing training for students and providing assistance [for them to get into] the normal school system,” he said
Once the transfer is completed, Krousar Thmey will monitor and audit progress for three years, looking at the way students are taken care of, the way education is provided and how teachers are trained.
The transfer will put funding for the special schools’ staff salary, scholarships, transportation and food within the jurisdiction of the ministry.
The 2015 Krousar Thmey Education Budget for the five schools was $1.101million. With the transfer and Krousar Thmey being no longer responsible for the schools, the budget will go down to $600,000 per year and their staff of 417 reduced to 66 employees. Which, Duchateau-Arminjon said, will be the biggest change to take place due to the transfer.
In the meantime, Krousar Thmey will continue its programs linked to child protection such as its two emergency shelters in Poipet and Phnom Penh, its two permanent centers in Siem Reap City and Takmao, and its five family houses in Siem Reap City, Phnom Penh, Kompong Cham and Battambang provinces.
For Duchateau-Arminjon, he said, “[w]orking for the country is to be able to say one day…this is not my task anymore, this is Cambodia’s task.”
From the beginning, the special-school transfer to the government was planned and programmed into Krousar Thmey’s structure.
This included having a mainly Cambodian staff: They have been the only ones interacting with the students in order to maintain consistency, cultural and identity values, and ease the integration of these students into public schools, Duchateau-Arminjon said.
In addition, the special schools provided students with “adapted education,” that is, using the national curriculum to teach in braille and sign language. Public school teachers were also trained to teach those students.
Krousar Thmey also made sure to work with the Ministry of Education from the start to pave the way for the transition.
Students with friends and family during an open-house day at one of Krousar Thmey schools. Photo Credit: Krousar Thmey
When the transfer agreement was signed in 2016, Duchateau-Arminjon said, “it was obvious that the government needed special structure in order to continue [the program].” The lack of capacity to teach blind or deaf students led the Ministry of Education to establish the National Institute for Special Education in 2017, he said.
“[W]e provide training for normal teachers to integrate students into normal classes,” Duchateau-Arminjon said. Krousar Thmey’s four schools are staffed with teachers from the ministry since 2011.
Krousar Thmey takes pride in the fact that several 100s of its blind or deaf students have attended university and/or found work, enabling them to support themselves and lead normal lives.