An international charity partners with IB World Schools to help provide free education to the poorest and most remote communities, as IB World investigates
When Chris Howarth started working in a small village in Cambodia to provide quality education, little did he know that six years later he would have instigated an international movement. To date, he has helped educate 15,000 children and train 250 teachers in Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar.
Howarth’s charity, United World Schools (UWS), partners with IB World Schools to build and maintain local schools—and train teachers—in indigenous regions. UWS has built 70 much-needed schools to date.
Learning to count, read and write opens up a range of possibilities and employment opportunities for children in these areas.
UWS Jong School, Cambodia, was built by Red Maids’ School, in Bristol, UK, which offers the IB Diploma Programme (DP). Jon Cooper, DP Coordinator, has been involved with UWS from the start. His former school, The Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS) – also an IB World School – funded Chai Thom, the second UWS school.
When Cooper moved to Red Maids’ in 2011, he decided to replicate the model. Once a year, DP students visit the area for three weeks. Leading up to the trip, students work collaboratively to raise funds. Then, when they are in the village, they teach students at Jong School for six hours a day, plan lessons and learn about Cambodian culture and history.
It’s an invaluable experience that has helped increase international mindedness and enhance the DP, says Cooper.
It offers curriculum material for theory of knowledge (TOK), geography and history classes. We have had a number of extended essays written as a result of the link. Our DP students have also been inspired in their creativity, activity, service (CAS) projects, as they see a visible impact.
“We also discuss the indigenous tribes at Jong School in TOK as part of the areas of knowing (AOK) and indigenous knowledge systems elements of the course. In addition, we connect and collaborate with other IB World Schools in the UK who have partnerships with UWS, such as PGS and Royal High Bath.”
Students have written, directed and performed a play about the rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) in Cambodia – a time when education was banned.
As soon as students start at Red Maids’, they learn about the partnership and raise money and awareness in their local community. Students can gain UWS Global Citizenship Awards at four levels (bronze through to platinum). “These are targeted at the various age groups to build a sense of international mindedness from the moment the student comes to school,” explains Cooper.
The aim is to spread international mindedness through the whole school community,” he adds.
“It is truly a two-way education. UWS and Red Maids’ students learn there is a world beyond their own. They understand the value of each other’s knowledge. They share in a cultural exchange and are thrown into new challenges.”
DP student Ali says: “Students in all years have had a sense of belonging to the partnership through assemblies, fundraising and lessons. Now, having visited Jong, it feels so much part of the school and of me. I became even more determined to put in as much energy into understanding others and having an impact on the world.”
Traditional teaching in Cambodia is known for its didactic style. However, UWS teachers are trained to use collaborative techniques, which encourages their students to reflect and inquire.
The intensive training can be very challenging, but it “builds character, independence and collaboration,” says Cooper. “They make a huge difference to the remote community, and encourage the students to be creative and think beyond simply knowledge.”
Education has been a lifesaver for many of the UWS community teachers, and they’re grateful for the opportunity to inspire the next generation. For example, Van Hoey, who grew up during the Khmer Rouge regime, was previously forced to work in the rice fields with very little water or food. However, he escaped to the jungle to attend secret lessons and schooling held by resistance groups. For Hoey, education is a symbol of freedom and hope.
UWS community teacher Srey Kolab says: “I was chosen to be trained as a community teacher, during which I learned to read and count in the Khmer language. They also introduced us to teachers who had been to university and grown up in towns and cities. We were much slower than them during training, but by the end we had become friends and they soon moved to our village.”
Collaborating with Jong School has inspired many Red Maids’ students to return to the village on gap years or after graduation.
Cooper says: “72 students and nine members of staff have been inspired to volunteer at Jong School. One teacher took UWS to his next IB World School and used the transferable model we developed at Red Maids’.”
UWS is calling for an end to global educational inequality. It is making strides in ensuring girls receive a quality education.
The charity recognizes that educating girls reduces their risk of child marriage, trafficking and exploitation, and provides vocational opportunities that can take them and their families out of poverty.
A crèche is provided in each UWS school to allow girls with children or younger siblings to attend lessons. Children are taught basic hygiene to reduce child mortality and about sex education to help limit young pregnancies.
In the future, UWS hopes to get 50,000 previously out-of-school children into education by 2019. It aims to build over 150 new schools across Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Laos, giving all children the opportunity to learn how to read, write and count.
As for Red Maids’, Cooper hopes to connect with the projects in Nepal or Myanmar, and eventually host a conference. “I would love a UWS and IB World Student conference, which would bring young people from UWS and IB World Schools together for inspiring talks, TOK and international mindedness.”