Three years ago, BOOKBRIDGE opened its first learning center in Cambodia. Our goal was to offer entrepreneurial opportunities to people in rural Cambodia and to improve access to education. Today, six local entrepreneurs run learning centers as social enterprises. Their goal is to increase access to quality education and skill training in underserved communities in rural Cambodia by employing an entrepreneurial approach. To control these goals let us take a look at the numbers: which progress have the learning centers made in the first six months of this year?
The sustainability rates of learning centers Tonloab, Takeo and Angroka (in the graphs named “Mobile”) are very encouraging as they reach 100% (see graph 1). If these rates continue, the overall numbers of this year should be positive compared with the two previous years (graph 2). Concerning our learning centers in Siem Reap, Ang Tasom and Tani, the sustainability rates are lower (between 50% and 70%). After a longer term of stagnation, we are very proud of learning center Takeo: sustainability rate has risen from 71% in January to 112% in June.
New ways to increased sustainability
To increase sustainability rate, each learning center takes on different approaches: Tonloab plans to reach 107% until the end of the year. Takeo is confident that they can increase the number of students in paid courses and free activities, and they will open new kindergarten classes. Tani will meet with directors and teachers in local primary schools to promote the center’s services and to distribute flyers to students. Tep Sothy, Head of Learning Center Tani says that getting a van for transporting young students from home to the center is a competitive advantage. Also, offering sports and fun learning activities outside the classroom in the yard can motivate students and serve as a positive signal to the community, he adds. Library activities such as drawing, coloring and singing have the potential to appeal to students as well.
Sothika Khoeun, Head of Learning Center Ang Tasom and Mobile says: “We are optimistic to increase our sustainability rate to 150% in the next six months. We are strengthening our capacity, both quality of education and teacher’s capacity. We are building relationship with parents and the community through several programs and events. That way, we expect to gain more students and the course fee might be higher than today. At the same time, we need more help and support from BOOKBRIDGE country team as we practically start from scratch.”
Number of Students
As graph 3 shows, the numbers of students enrolled at learning centers Tonloab and Ang Tasom have been the highest of all learning centers (over 200). The slight decrease might be due to summer break. For the other learning centers, enrollments have been lower (between 40 and 100 students).
As the major cause for the stagnating numbers, Takeo and Tonloab have cited high competition with other schools that use more effective marketing activities to attract students. Tonloab hopes to win new students via friends and peers of already enrolled students and offering fun learning activities. Takeo wants to strengthen teaching quality and introduce awards for top students to rise student numbers. Tani names missing transportation for students travelling home or to Phnom Penh for extra studies during school summer break as main causes for the stagnant growth.
Sothika Khoeun (Ang Tasom) explains: “Student enrolment rate remains stagnant for a number of reasons, namely (1) teacher turnover, (2) poor quality of teaching and classroom management, (3) no new learning activities, (4) losing confidence of the community due to the change in the management of the learning center, (5) the fact that the community places their trust on one person but not on educational quality. To meet these challenges I need to enforce marketing and teaching quality in order to get more students. To increase sustainability rate, we plan to open new kindergarten classes in the morning.”
As showed in graph 4, the most visited library has been the one of Tonloab with an average of 130 daily visitors. Libraries in Takeo and Siem Reap have been used by more than 40 daily visitors whereas the ones in Tani and Ang Tasom and our mobile library show an average of 10 visitors.
Part of the reasons for the low numbers for Tani are that the new librarian has been busy with book labeling and learning how to bring the library to life. Also, our library is competing with the other library located in the high school. At Angtasom the former librarian felt less motivated after the Head of Learning Center had resigned. As far as the mobile library of Angroka learning center is concerned, it is only open on Saturday morning as there is no full-time teacher who can take charge of it.
Participation in Free Learning Activities
Graph 5 shows the number of students participating in free learning activities at the learning centers. Due to room and staff limitations, learning center Tonloab cannot increase the number of participants though Vannak believes in free learning activities as integral part of the attractiveness of the center. Angtasom wishes to offer more activities and events to attract students from primary and high school. Takeo is finding new activities to get students to come to the center, also to attract them to paid courses.
Though these numbers are encouraging for the most part, the learning centers still face challenges. A big wish of our Community Heros was to get more and better support from BOOKBRIDGE Country team. The team is currently considering to set up support mechanisms in order to help the learning centers to achieve a higher sustainability rate, more student enrollments, more daily library visitors and more free learning activities.