PEPY Empowering Youth scholarship students participate in English classes in the Learning Center as well as at external English-language schools in Siem Reap. Our English classes supplement the classes delivered by these facilities to provide a well-rounded education in the English language.
In late 2013 we established an educational partnership with Donabate Portrane Educate Together National School (DPETNS) in Ireland. DPETNS is part of the Educate Together National School (ETNS) system in Ireland.
This partnership works to enhance the teaching and learning of the “Learn Together” curriculum at DPETNS and to improve the quality of education at PEPY Empowering Youth. Additionally, it has provided an opportunity to empower both Irish and Cambodian students to play an active role in being global citizens.
In July 2014, three teachers from Ireland came to Siem Reap and spent three weeks with the students learning, teaching, and collaborating. One of the teachers, Colm Byrne, remained in Cambodia as Capacity Builder with PEPY Empowering Youth. Since that time, Colm has been teaching English classes at the Learning Center.
Both first-year and second-year students attend six hours of English classes each week at the Learning Center. Recently, we sat down with Colm to ask about his experience with PEPY Empowering Youth.
Why are strong English-language skills so important for young people in Cambodia?
There is a big demand from employers for competent English-language skills, especially in the tourism, NGO, and education sectors which are predominant in Siem Reap. Having this skill is crucial to securing future employment, both in Siem Reap and beyond.
Being able to communicate well in English also helps cross cultural barriers and access universal information online.
English classes at the Learning Center focus on practical skills through the English language and include soft skills like critical thinking, leadership skills, and confidence. Can you elaborate on the curriculum?
Topics that have been covered to date include conflict resolution, mentoring, debating skills, mental health, interview techniques, belief systems, different types of government, and CV and cover letter content.
What are the benefits of learning these skills in addition to language skills such as vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar?
We believe it provides a more comprehensive education. For example, students learn how to formulate and substantiate opinions, identify and progress towards goals, and work efficiently in groups and individually. While these skills are important for employability, they’re also beneficial for many areas of one’s life.
Have there been any challenges in teaching the classes and if so, how were they dealt with?
Students entered the classes with varying English-language skills. Initially they were separated into groups to accommodate these different levels and to allow students to work at a pace best suited to their needs. This created a foundation which enabled us to then work with the students in one group.
Some of the topics and concepts covered in the lessons were unfamiliar to the students and as a result they were hesitant to contribute. To encourage participation I asked for and incorporated themes of interest to the students which helped them grasp these new concepts.
What changes have you seen in the students during your time with PEPY Empowering Youth?
The students’ confidence has grown exponentially. Their English ability has greatly improved. Also, the students now have a greater cultural awareness and sense of global citizenship. It’s also great to see the students continue to be engaged and eager to learn and improve.
What’s planned for English classes for the remainder of 2015?
While my contract with PEPY Empowering Youth closes at the end of this month, the classes will continue but in a different format. For the foreseeable future, the students themselves, along with support from staff, will now facilitate the classes in a peer-learning environment.
Again this July, four teachers from ETNS will spend three weeks in Siem Reap working with the students. The students are excited to work with ETNS representatives again and we look forward to continuing to collaborate together.
We thank Colm for his contribution to PEPY Empowering Youth and to DPETNS for their continued support.