Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Revisiting Muong Khong Anuban Kindergarten

When we first arrived in Muong Khong we visited Muong Khong Anuban to see how many of the changes we had made were still in place. We were very impressed to see that Nyom had remained true to her word and had continued to improve conditions by building stairs and creating gardens. She also created her own children’s books from the notebooks we gave them last year! Very impressive. And pop-up books at that.

Meeting in Muong Khong

We are here in Muong Khong. Today we had our meeting with all the school principals for kindergartens in the Khong District—12 out of 15 attended, which was a good turnout. Government education officials also attended.

What Happened

We asked each principal to share basic info such as number of teachers and students as well as their biggest challenges and immediate needs. Interestingly, the biggest challenge is attendance. Out of 6,500 kindergarten-age children in Khong District, only 300 attend school. The reason is because parents don’t see the value of kindergarten, even though it is where the child is first introduced to the alphabet and basic numbers—necessary for grade 1. However because the kindergarten schools are so poorly equipped—some don’t even have a building, just operate outside in the shade—parents don’t want to send their children.

Possible solutions include educating the community about the importance of kindergarten and also improving the basic facilities of the kindergarten schools, to make them seem more attractive to parents—a safe and useful place to leave their children.

Many schools need help with the most basic of needs. For example, about half of the schools need toilets, and a few have no access to water. A couple don’t even have a building—they are held outside in the shade. They all need teaching supplies, such as chalkboards, crayons, paper, and educational toys. Most don’t have desks or chairs. Quite a few are sharing space with elementary schools, and classes are disrupted by older children.

To find out who our possible leaders were (principals with initiative) we asked what kinds of things they were doing to try to solve their own challenges. This actually was a very difficult question for them—it had to be asked many times in many ways. It is not in the culture here for people to show initiative because it is has a communist-style gov’t. Initiative is not encouraged. But eventually we were able to get enough answers to find a couple people in the group who are showing initiative—such as making their own educational toys for children and visiting parents to ask why they don’t send their children to school.

Next we will visit a few possible schools to decide which one we can help—where we will have the most impact.

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