Robert Erdin, BOOKBRIDGE Fellow at our Mobile Learning Center in Takeo province, and Sokhan Khut, BOOKBRIDGE Country Manager for Cambodia, participated in a workshop about community learning centers in Phnom Penh. As Robert says, besides presenting many interesting facts, the workshop also revealed why BOOKBRIDGE’s model is so successful.
On Tuesday June 16, Sokhan and I attended the National Collaborative Community Learning Centre Workshop in Phnom Penh, organised by ACTED. The general idea of a community learning center (CLC) deviates slightly from BOOKBRIDGE’s learning centers. According to UNICEF it is “a local educational institution, usually set up and managed by local people to provide various learning opportunities with the support of the government, NGOs, and private sectors. Literacy, post-literacy, income generation, life skill programmes and basic education are provided at CLCs.”
The aim of the project is to come up with a holistic model on how to set up and run a CLC which is replicable on a national scale in Cambodia. The model will be based on observations of CLCs in practice as well as on the results of three national workshops. Different stakeholders to such a model were present: commune chiefs, NGOs setting up or running CLCs, district and provincial authorities, publishers of content relevant to the curriculum and a social enterprise developing and selling games to foster literacy.
In practice, the two largest obstacles to CLCs seem to be the transition from an NGO setup or run learning center to a community run learning center as well as how to access the national operational budget. Each commune that wishes to run a CLC is eligible to get USD 3,000 annually, to cover operational costs of a CLC. Apparently it is virtually impossible to access this budget. And even if a commune fights to cut all the red tape, only a fraction of the money actually makes it to the CLC in the end. The fraction of the money that makes it to the CLC does not come in on a regular basis which makes teachers often leave the CLC because they are not paid.
These rather gloomy perspectives highlight the strengths of BOOKBRIDGE learning centers. First of all, no transition is needed because the centers are at the heart of our business model and run by a member of the local community from day one. Our learning centers are financially self-sustained and therefore not dependent on an unreliable national budget. In the transition to self-sustainability the initial investment provides liquidity to pay salaries on time to keep the fluctuation of teachers low to ensure the consistency the pupils need in their development.
Communes or NGOs running CLCs or intending to do so can learn from us how alternative revenue streams can be used to mitigate consequences of the fluctuating budget from the government and still provide free services to the community. BOOKBRIDGE can in turn try to benefit from existing curriculum and relevant content for both, English and life-skills courses that is available from the government and NGOs. If we manage to teach life-skills in our English courses we could vastly improve our impact on the communities we are active in. I hope that the curriculum resulting from these workshops is a good starting point to try.