coping in cambodia – schooling in the time of covid-19
The view over Phnom Penh from Kaylene's apartment. Photo provided.

A look at how parents, teachers and students around the world are coping with schooling during a global pandemic.

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When I started interviewing Kaylene for this series, Cambodia was not in lockdown. A few days later, on Sunday, April 3, I woke to the news that the country was considering instituting a state of emergency. Two days later, Kaylene explained that Prime Minister Hun Sen had not declared a state of emergency but had prohibited large group events, including the Khmer New Year celebrations.

Life for all of us right now is fluid, changing daily or even hourly, it can only be more so for those who are far from home in a foreign country.

Kaylene’s family bubble in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, comprises of herself, her husband, and three children – ages 13, 8 and 6. Dad hails from England and mum from Canada. The couple met in China, where both were teaching. Kaylene is now a Grade 3 teacher at the Canadian International school, where her husband is a full-time substitute teacher.

Having lived in China, Kaylene says they heard about the coronavirus crisis when it first began to unfold publicly in January, and made sure to “keep our ear to the ground as it might approach us quickly.”

Expatriates in Cambodia with pre-existing conditions or those whose age made them more vulnerable headed back to their home countries, Kaylene says, but she and her husband decided to remain in Cambodia as their parents are older, and they did not want to put them at further risk.

Cambodia has a very large Chinese population, she says, but until very recently, there was only one known case.

“Then the director of our school got it!,” she says. “Schools were immediately closed and online learning began. We knew it was coming, and we were prepared. Our kids are fine, and they seem to trust our judgement.”

All three children are being home schooled with the curriculum provided by their teachers but Kaylene says they seem to be receiving more work than when they were in school.

“We told the school we would do a maximum five activities a day, and we focus mainly on maintaining mental and physical health.”

Teachers and families are now working together to find an appropriate balance that allows time to complete activities while still achieving curricular goals, she says.

For her own students, Kaylene is holding daily meetings with mini lessons on remote conferencing service Zoom, and assigning activities on remote learning app Seesaw. She is working on the curriculum for the remainder of the year, and says everything has “intensified”.

“I believe the purpose is to create a sense of normality,” she says. “I think there needs to be more support for families. Not every child has a parent home all day.”

In Cambodia, she says, many families rely on nannies who don’t speak English.

“It’s new territory. We are doing what we can.”

Kaylene says the family is wearing masks whenever they go out, as do most people she sees, but she has not gone out socially in more than a month.

“We are remembering to take time for us, and also to help our children focus on their health – mind and body.”