Teaching Gender Equality At Cambodian Schools: An Interview With Teach For Cambodia’s Sreyleap Taing

"School is a place where you discover yourself, where you try different things, where you explore. It’s not a place where you are sad or bored to go. You meet with great teachers, you are able to be yourself, and you learn to do anything by yourself, with help from the teachers.” All photo: Sreyleap Taking

"School is a place where you discover yourself, where you try different things, where you explore. It’s not a place where you are sad or bored to go. You meet with great teachers, you are able to be yourself, and you learn to do anything by yourself, with help from the teachers.” All photo: Sreyleap Taking

School is a place where you discover yourself, where you try different things, where you explore. It’s not a place where you are sad or bored to go. You meet with great teachers, you are able to be yourself, and you learn to do anything by yourself...

Oxfam is proud to support the publication of Diving Deep, Going Far, a collection of stories from a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia. The women in the book come from diverse backgrounds, but are united in one objective: to break through the expectations placed on them and create a better future. Below is a story writen by Menno de Block, showing one angle of the impact of this publication.

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A growing number of schools, organizations and teachers in Cambodia are using Diving Deep, Going Far in their curriculum. With its unique storytelling approach, the book is a great resource for teachers that want to discuss concepts like gender equality, personal leadership and following one’s dreams. And thanks to the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Oxfam Cambodia, we’ve got 5,000 Khmer copies available for free, for just this purpose.

One of the first teachers to adopt Diving Deep, Going Far in her lessons is Sreyleap Taing, who is one of 33 in Teach For Cambodia’s first cohort of teaching fellows. Teach For Cambodia (TFC), co-founded by Teach For America alum Monirath Siv, aims to transform Cambodia’s education system, by attracting some of the brightest graduates into their program and feeding them into Cambodia’s public schools as teachers. 

Tell us a bit about your journey of becoming a teacher and applying with Teach For Cambodia.

“I came to Phnom Penh from my hometown in Kampong Cham province in 2014, to study at the Institute of Foreign Languages. Last year, I graduated from my bachelor in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. At the same time, I was teaching English at a private school.

“When I was in the final year of my bachelor, the Teach For Cambodia team came to give a presentation in my classroom. I heard their vision, which is about unleashing every kid’s potential in Cambodia. And back in my community, some of the kids don’t go to school, because of poverty. They end up collecting rubbish, or working in a factory, rather than pursuing education. So, I was thinking about a vision of having more of those kids in school, and that inspired me to join the fellowship. I got selected, and after the intensive training program, I got assigned to teach English to 160 Grade 9 students, in four classes.”

Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher?

“When I grew up, my dad was a teacher, and I noticed that he was different from the teachers at my school. He cared more about the students. I got inspired by him, and I myself also joined some classes to be a teacher at a lower level. I liked meeting the kids every day and hearing their stories. In the end, I just kept going on that journey. I actually also tried a different major, but I wasn’t into it as much. Teaching is my passion.”

What’s your own vision for unleashing every kid’s potential? What does that mean to you personally?

“To me, it means you are going to school, but school is a place where you discover yourself, where you try different things, where you explore. It’s not a place where you are sad or bored to go. You meet with great teachers, you are able to be yourself, and you learn to do anything by yourself, with help from the teachers.”

Sreyleap is one of seven TFC fellows at the high school she teaches at. She took the initiative to use Diving Deep, Going Far in her own classroom and encourages other teachers to integrate it in theirs. Together, the TFC fellows teach around 500 of the school’s more than 1,500 students.

What made you decide to start using Diving Deep, Going Far at your school?

“I really like the book myself, and when I found out that you had copies available for free, I talked to the other fellows at my school. Together, we discussed ideas for how we could use it. I put several copies at the teacher resources section, and some of the other teachers are borrowing the book. Personally, I have copies of the book to lend to my own students, to read at home. At the moment, there are about 50 students that have read the book and have started writing book reviews, and there are others that are still reading it. Another TFC fellow at my school teaches grade 7, and she reads the book to her students herself when she’s done with the syllabus work, because their reading level is not high enough.”

How do you integrate Diving Deep, Going Far into your lessons? Because you teach English, and the copies of the book that you have are in Khmer. How do you make that fit into your curriculum?

“At the beginning of the year, I told my students that my goal is not just to teach them English, but to bring out other skills too. I want to help them improve essential skills they use in their daily lives, skills they’ll need if they want to continue to university, or in their work environment. So, I teach them about team work, about communication, and of course, reading is also one of those skills, whether it’s in English or in Khmer.

“With Diving Deep, Going Far, I wanted to promote gender equality and opportunities for girls. There are a lot of girls in my school that are facing pressure from the norms of our society. Many of them were talking about it with me, for example that they are not allowed to go out with classmates when there are boys in the group. It reminded me of Diving Deep, Going Far, and it made me want to share the book with them, but also with the male students.

“I let my students read the book and have them write book reviews, and we will also have a group discussion. When that’s done, I want to use it to teach them how to tell their own story. Because the women in the book all share their stories, and I want to inspire my students to do the same. So I will first write down my own story and share it with them, and then I’ll help the students to do the same.”

Can you share some of the reactions from the students that have read it?

“It gives them perspective. One of my students told me that she understands better how our society’s norms impact women. She was surprised that it wasn’t just her who was facing pressure, but other women too. And the stories in the book show them examples of how other women deal with that pressure, the students learn from that.

“One of the male students told me that, even though he feels the book is more for women, he now has a better understanding of gender equality. In the stories, he recognized a lot of things that happened in his own community. It made him reflect a lot, and now he understands it better. He told me he believes the book is great to encourage women.”

Do you feel like you’ve been able to achieve your objectives with using Diving Deep, Going Far so far?

“Yes, even though we’ve not yet reached the goal. I want to have at least half of my students, at least 80, read the book this year. But we’ve got a month to go, so hopefully we’ll make it. I’m grateful that still new students come to me to ask me to borrow a copy. And although they are very busy and some of them take a month to read the book, I can tell that they really want to keep reading. They want to know what happens next.”