School Safety in Cambodia

December 1, 2015

School Safety Cambodia


In Cambodia’s Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction, the education sector is highlighted in two of its six components, which have provided a framework for school safety efforts in Cambodia. Subsequently, a number of initiatives have been implemented, including: the integration of disaster risk reduction into the school curricula of Grade 8’s Earth science and geography subjects, development of school construction guidelines, and issuance of a child-friendly school policy, which promotes child’s basic rights, and emphasises child-centred disaster risk reduction and school safety initiatives, including child protection from disasters.1

A number of school safety initiatives took place in the sub-districts that were stewarded by NGOs in collaboration with local and national governments. For instance, Plan International Cambodia, in partnership with local organisations and government agencies, started a school safety programme in 2012 aiming to reach 84 schools and benefit 95,000 students by 2017. Save the Children developed disaster risk reduction materials for grades 4, 5 and 6 for integration into the curriculum, and is currently looking to develop similar materials for junior and senior high schools.

The ASEAN Safe Schools Initiative (ASSI) started in September 2014 with Plan International Cambodia as the lead agency of the consortium. To better reach out to the rural areas that are highly prone to floods and storms, Plan International Cambodia partnered with a local organisation, Padek. The objective of ASSI in Cambodia is to create policies and tools, and increase relevant stakeholders’ capacity through:

  • School safety training for government officials of the Provincial and District Department of Education, Youth and Sport, and teachers;
  • Safe school assessments with teachers and students, including child-led hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessments, and the development of action plans;
  • Pilot safe schools and provision of support for their action plans; and
  • School-based micro projects to mitigate the disaster risks. The micro-projects include instalment of hand rails for the floating school, and the provision of water filter, first aid kit and traffic sign boards – all of which are needs identified by the school.

ASSI in Cambodia works in 15 schools in two provinces, Kampong Chnnang and Pursat, targeting to increase the knowledge, and gradually change the attitude and behaviour of about 75 teachers and 3,000 students. This case study will feature good practices and explore behavioural changes in three target schools and the community that they serve. The three schools are: Kolab Primary School and Kampong Luong Primary School in Pursat, and Yukhuntor Primary School, a floating school in Kampong Chnnang.

Good Practices and Behavioural Changes

CSSF Pillars 1 and 2 – Case Study 1: Kolab Primary School and Kampong Luong Primary School in Pursat

Kolab Primary School is a public school located in the Tonsay Koll Village bordering with four other villages. It has five classrooms where 351 students of grades 1 to 6 (of which 177 are girls) study with their ten teachers. Based on the safe school assessment that the teachers and students conducted through the ASSI programme, floods and storms are the major hazards that affect the school. Other hazards they face include the lack of access to clean water and traffic accidents.

In the safe school assessment, the hazards and vulnerabilities were prioritised, and school-based disaster mitigation projects were planned based on results from the safe school assessment. The process was participatory and involved teachers, students and the school support committee, which consists of parents and teachers. They identified the following top hazards that affect the school and impedes students’ access to their education:

  1. Traffic accident – preventing students from arriving at school on time and raising parents’ concerns for their children’s safety
  2. Flash flood – holding up the study time and interrupting learning and teaching activities, and creating a muddy school environment that increases the risk of mosquito-borne diseases
  3. Clean water scarcity – increasing the likelihood of typhoid and diarrhoea
  4. Storm – strong wind increasing the risk of injuries during school time

To improve the school infrastructure, and create a safe and secure learning environment for the students, the school identified small-scale disaster mitigation projects for implementation during the ASSI programme period and beyond. The range of mitigation measures include: the creation of traffic signs and traffic warning messages in high-risk spots, development of an information board about traffic safety, provision of loud speakers and helmets for use in times of disaster, and the organisation of hygiene and sanitation campaigns that include hand washing promotion and provision of trash bins.

A school disaster management plan was developed through school safety trainings to teachers, in coordination with the District Training and Monitoring Team of the Department of Education, Youth and Sport.

The teachers’ involvement in the safe school assessment and planning increased their knowledge on basic disaster risk reduction concepts, as expressed by one of the teachers:

“I have learnt so much about school safety – a concept that I did not understand before: what is a hazard? How do we manage it? But now, I understand and can develop a school safety plan.”

This process of risk knowledge exchange and sharing indirectly raised awareness of the parents who are part of the community. This highlights the importance of linkages and collaboration between the school and the community at large. Parents participating within the school support committee were supportive of the school safety initiative. They willingly participated in the school safety activities with their children, and learned the basic concepts of disaster risk reduction.

Kampong Luong Primary School, with 256 students and 8 teachers, is located near the river. The school and the community surrounding the school are exposed to flood risks. During the safe school assessment and hazard mapping, the school identified other hazards besides flood. For instance, the government had previously elevated the classrooms by about 5 metres above the ground to mitigate risks against flooding, and students now have to climb stairs to enter their classrooms. As identified in the safe school assessment, this elevated structure resulted in a new risk – falling from the elevation. Other hazards identified include traffic accidents, storms and broken wooden bridges.

A seasonal calendar was developed at the school to find out the type of disasters categorised by months, which resulted in the collation of a document, namely “School Safety Assessment and Planning Development”. The document includes the roles and responsibilities of each member of the school, and an evacuation plan.

The [ASSI] programme has changed the students’ behaviour, on safe drinking water for instance. Before, students would drink from the river, but when the school idenyified the need for a water filter and clean water reservoir, and then installed them at the school, the children no longer drink from the river. The parents also feel safe to send their children to the school.
– Mr. Nychetra, Principal of Kampong Luong Primary School

The school purchased the identified equipment and supplies to address the risk factors such as the water reservoir, life jackets, boat, generator, first aid kit and waste segregator. Through this process of a joint assessment involving teachers, students and parents, and then seeing the results of the joint assessment being acted upon, the programme has raised student’s awareness of the importance of disaster risk reduction. It has also convinced programme stakeholders that collaborative efforts result in positive change. Although disaster risk reduction is yet to be integrated into the curriculum, the principal plans to have a “Life Skill” theme in all the subjects in the school every Thursday.

CSSF Pillars 1 and 2 – Case study 2: Yukhuntor Primary School, Kampong Chhnang

Yukhuntor Primary School is a floating school 44 kilometres from the Kampong Chhnang city centre. This school was established by the community that lived in floating settlements by the river. After years of operation, the school was taken over by the government to provide education to children. It has 142 students and 5 teachers. It also has a school support committee and a student council. The community’s livelihood is built mainly on fishing.

The school is frequently exposed to severe storms and the identified hazards that frequently affect education continuity include: students falling into the river due to poor barriers around the school, and the capsize of boats that students use to travel to and from school, causing drowning.

Following a hazards mapping exercise at the school with teachers, students and the school support committee, small-scale mitigation measures were identified such as: repairing the broken hand rails, constructing a bridge that connects the school to land, reinforcing the school foundation in the water, installing water reservoir, harvesting rain water and providing water filter to gain access to clean and safe drinking water, stocking life jackets, creating traffic signs to warn the passing boats to slow down during class times, and purchasing a larger boat to avoid overcrowding.

“Throughout the process, there has been an increase in school safety knowledge of the students. In Yukhuntor, for example, the students can now develop school safety plans. They are now aware that the maximum capacity of a small boat is 3-4 students, and if the boat exceeds its capacity, it is likely to capsize and cause drowning.”
– Kim Chanphearum, Padek’s Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

The improvement of the school infrastructure, such as the hand rails reparation around the school prevents the students from falling into the water. Young students oftentimes wear the life jacket during the school hours. Recently, the principal issued a policy that parents must provide their children with life jacket if their children wish to be enrolled into the school. The school safety activities started to inculcate the students, and also the community, with a sense of preparedness.

Scenario of a School Drill

The bell rang at the school.

“Attentiontion please! The storm has reached our school. Please evacuate to a safer place,” announced Mr. Samnang, a parent of one of the students assigned to warn students of an impending disaster.

Students rushed to put on their life jackets and hid under the table. Students remained under the table until the school announced that it was safe to return to their seats.

A group of students trained in first aid checked the classroom one by one and attended to those who were injured. Some were injured from falling down.

This school drill is performed regularly to get the students prepared when a storm affects their school. Storm is a major disaster risk and in every class, life jackets are available.

The school experienced a major storm in 2007 damaging the school roof, causing the school building to collapse and destroying study materials. Annually, students are injured or fall ill because of the storm and they miss classes.

The school drills aim to test the standard operating procedures in times of emergency, which are part of the school disaster management plan.

The school support committee consisting of 10 parents have been committed to creating a safe school environment, evident by the involvement in the school drills, organising a boat transfer to and from school, and the renovation and strengthening of the school infrastructures. The school support committee members are supportive of the initiative considering that their children’s safety is their key concern.

Children taking responsibilities for their own safety at school

In Cambodia, the student council is responsible for school safety. The student council in the Yukhuntor Primary School has members in charge of the library, students’ skills development, supervision of other members, sport and arts, finance, lifeguarding, and conflict settlement. When asked what the student council knows about school safety, here is what one of the members had to say:

“I got to learn about hazards from the mapping exercise in the school. I am responsible for telling other students to watch their steps when crossing the bridge so they will not slip and fall into the water. ‘Be careful when crossing the bridge, don’t get stuck in between the wooden logs of the bridge,’ I would say.”

It is notable that there are more girl members than boys in the student council. The girls often take leadership of the student council, and are in charge of the school’s first aid. They are active and confident.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

“It is a challenge to add on disaster risk reduction materials into the already- stretched teaching materials. Teachers would not have much time to adopt the materials. But, I have appointed myself to be the focal point of disaster risk reduction in the school.”
– Mr. Nychetra, Principal of Kampong Luong Primary School

The principal of Kampong Luong expressed a challenge that typically faces schools when applying disaster risk reduction and school safety. The other challenge is despite the increased knowledge of teachers and students on disaster risk reduction, strong school facilities are the key to children safety in school but they do not have enough engineering knowledge to understand and apply the disaster-resistant building code.

Learnings from partnership in ASSI implementation

One of the success factors of ASSI implementation is the partnership between Plan International Cambodia, the lead agency, and Padek, the local partner. Plan International Cambodia’s knowledge and experience in school safety, together with Padek’s strong presence in the communities of Pursat and Kampong Chnnang has contributed to positive results within a short period of time. Padek has field offices in Pursat and Kampong Chnnang, they have a well-established relationship with the communities, and the communities trust the work of Padek. Through technical support from Plan International, Padek assisted the school in conducting safe school assessments, training the teachers, students and local government officials on school safety, and procuring essential equipment and supplies for the schools.

Way Forward

The schools recognise the challenge of continually reviewing and revising the school disaster management plan, but they are keen to build upon what they have initiated through ASSI. For example, the Kampong Luong Primary School plans to improve the environment of the school by establishing more green space to minimise the disaster risks, and assign clear roles and responsibilities of the school support committee and provide more trainings. Through ASSI, schools and other stakeholders involved have seen the value of partnership. For example, Padek would like to engage with the Cambodian Red Cross on school safety, and request their support on first aid training, and the provision of equipment and supplies to reduce their disaster risks.

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