The first ever schoolbooks in the Jarai language

At Peak primary school, student of the Jarai community from surrounding areas learn both the national curriculums and their language. © 2024 Nasa Dip/CARE

At Peak primary school, student of the Jarai community from surrounding areas learn both the national curriculums and their language. © 2024 Nasa Dip/CARE

Surrounding by green rolling hills, about 70 kilometers away from Banlung Town in Ratanak Kiri province sits a Peak Primary School.

On the red soil of Ou Ya Dav District, this four-classrooms primary school is an education hub for over one hundred Jarai students – one of the major Indigenous communities in this Northeast province.

Ratanak Kiri is home to Cambodia’s many Indigenous communities. These Indigenous communities have unique social and cultural norms and practices and speak a variety of languages, which is their home language and the language they use in their communities. Children of these communities grow up speaking their mother tongue and are only exposed to the national language Khmer at school or outside their communities. The Government has decided to implement multilingual education, using both the mother tongue and Khmer language in the curriculum. recognizing the significance of linguistic and cultural diversity within the nation.

Language encompasses their uniqueness, reflects rights to inclusive education and culturally relevance

The piloting of the first Jarai language textbooks in Grade 1 is a significant milestone in the development of Multilingual Education in Cambodia. A green colored Jarai textbook sits open on top of their desks as children at Peak Primary School wander around excitedly. The piloting of the Jarai language of instruction and books started a month earlier. Exciting about this initiative, the school teachers discussed their practices, challenges, and teaching of multilingual education in their school during the exposure visits of government officials who can to learn from these teachers.

“Using multilingual education in the classroom is like a bridge for students. It connects their mother tongue to the Khmer language and makes their learning easier” Sev Hout, the school director said. According to the School Management Committee, consisting of surrounding community members, 90% of the students at Peak Primary School have the Jarai ethnicity. The previous practice at this school was that the teacher provided oral translation of the Khmer textbooks in the Jarai language while teaching. This was a difficult process, and it didn’t do justice to the rich linguistic cultural environment of the learners.

“Using the book contributes to the protection of cultural identity, customs and traditions of the Jarai community because the textbook illustrates the cultural practices relevant to the Jarai community.”, says Keo Phirum, an education officer dedicated to multilingual education at the Provincial Office of Education. Phirum was involved in the training on the methodology and evaluation on the draft of the pilot textbooks. He adds: “Multilingual education encourages better communication between students and teachers, and it is easier for the teachers to teach in the language of the students and the community. It encourages students to come back to school, and even drop out students to come back to school.”

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Multilingual Education practices

The first pilot copy of Jarai textbook to be implemented along the national curriculums. © 2024 Nasa Dip/CARE

“This pilot is a first step to include Jarai in the multilingual education program of the Ministry.” He calls to strong support and cooperation to make the pilot a success. Yet, he already sees areas of improvement with this pilot: “The book needs to improve its accuracy in context and language. But this is a pilot, so we can still make improvements.”

Noisy classrooms are filled with students are learning in Jarai. They understand what they are learning and the textbooks encourage active learning, so the noisiness is a sign of full engagement from the students. Romas Thaes, the Jarai teacher talks about the changes in his teaching since he started teaching in the mother tongue:

“With the previous use of Khmer textbooks and using the Khmer language for instructions students has difficulty in learning daily objects. Now, they understand these written words a lot better as the textbooks are written in the Jarai language” he said. “Using Jarai textbook helps the learning and student can learn easier and faster. They also feel confident to answer questions as we use the language that they speak at home”.

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