Fellow Martina: Empowering Students to Think Outside the Box

Student from Siem Reap with her certificate
Student from Siem Reap with her certificate
Martina is BOOKBRIDGE fellow at our learning center in Siem Reap, Cambodia. After half or her 6-months fellowship has passed, she looks back and writes about her learnings in the last months.
It’s time for my third blog post and so much has happened in the meantime that I honestly do not know where to begin! I am close to having completed half of my fellowship and it feels like time keeps moving faster and faster.

Learning Center Siem Reap is growing considerably and beautifully. Every day the library is full of students who come to read, learn and rest from the tiring and demanding school classes. Today for example it seems like exams are approaching in some classes, therefore we are seeing many students reviewing their books and notes in preparation for the tests.
The activities are running regularly as usual and the students are eager to take part in them. For example yesterday it was San Valentine’s day and we decided to write postcards to people we love. We decorated them with stickers and colored them and the results were simply beautiful!

Moreover, as every two weeks we schedule a movie event here in the library, many students are bringing suggestions for movies they would like to see and we try our best to fulfill their requests. Our approach is to listen to the students and attempt to accommodate their requests at the best of our capacity because we firmly believe that by involving them in the center’s decision-making processes is to empower and give them the ownership of the learning center and consequently confidence.

Discussing with students
Discussing with students
Following this stream of thoughts, we strongly work towards empowerment and self-confidence, both in our library activities as well as in the classrooms. The students are encouraged to think outside the box, to express their opinion frankly and to cooperate with their peers to generate better results, through self-research and general knowledge. However, most of the times, given the conservative teaching methods of the Cambodian schools and a culture that values a hierarchical system to be the core of education and work, it is very hard to get the students to be brave and think independently because they are used to being told what to do and how to do it.

Some days ago I was having a very interesting conversation with one of my students who asked me ‘Why Western students are braver and more independent-thinking than Khmer?’ It stunned me for the straightforwardness and honesty and most importantly because I ultimately saw that they – the students – recognize the flaws in the system and desire a change.
Cambodia is going through a change in generational thinking and understanding and I am so happy that I can see it first-hand. Thanks to the contact with different cultures that happens digitally as well as physically, the younger generations are challenging old rules and creating their own by mixing the Cambodian and Western world. BOOKBRIDGE Learning Centers are following suit in this endeavor and I am strongly confident that gradually – however invisibly – the change is already happening before our eyes.

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