At PEPY, we often talk about how our projects reflect the needs of Cambodia’s Chanleas Dai commune. Over the years, we have accomplished this by conducting needs assessments after establishing an idea for a new project. While responses from the community have been useful in shaping projects, we realized that, by only addressing specific topics, we have been missing an opportunity for more comprehensive feedback. Never before had we made a deliberate effort to ask Chanleas Dai educators, parents and students those “big-picture” questions about what is necessary for young people to be successful and happy role models.
We were assisted in this process by consultant Phany Tum. In the early stages, Phany worked with our leadership team to determine a strategy: who would we talk to? How many people did we want to include? Would we only involve those who live in PEPY’s target area? We concluded that we would focus much of our attention on surveying students (though it would be important to hear from a variety of others) and that we would reach out to a few people outside of our target area.
We had to think of the best ways to phrase our questions in order to provide enough explanation so that people could understand what we were asking, but without influencing their answers. We realized this during a trial period with our youngest participants, as some could not grasp what we were asking and so we revised our initial set of tasks for children of this age group.
During the process other challenges came to light. For example, an ideal survey would have included participation from school-age youth who had dropped out of school. However, there was no way to reach out to this demographic, since most had migrated to Thailand to work. With more time, we would have surveyed more students in order to have a larger sample for data analysis.
Through this project the needs assessment team engaged 119 students, 15 parents, 8 educators, 5 village chiefs, and 25 Khmer staff members through questionnaires, interviews and activities. Most of the students were involved in at least one PEPY program, but in order to make a comparison, we also surveyed several from a school outside of our area. These exercises were a great learning opportunity for us, and for Chanleas Dai residents and young people, it was a chance to think about what education means for youth and how it relates to increased access to opportunities.
Phany analyzed the data looking for patterns, both in successes and failures. She looked for the range in responses, especially with regards to why people leave school early; and she looked at what people found important in achieving dreams and pursuing education.
Stay tuned to find out what we learned from the needs assessment findings!