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FEATURE STORYMarch 26, 2024

Enhancing Access to Education for Children with Disabilities through Social Accountability in Cambodia


A teacher in a special education class in Athip Padei  Primary School in Cambodia oversees a student’s work.

  • The Integration of Social Accountability into National and Subnational Systems, and Engaging Citizens to Improve Service Delivery Through Social Accountability projects collectively support local governments and service providers and civil society in Cambodia to improve the quality and responsiveness of selected public services through more informed and engaged citizens, and through the strengthening and institutionalization of participatory accountability practices in local government systems.
  • Both projects prioritize the inclusion of women, youth, ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities in local service delivery:
  • Since 2020, these projects have supported nearly 3,000 primary schools across Cambodia., including Athip Padei Primary School in Siem Reap province, which has taken on more children with disabilities.

In a classroom at Athip Padei Primary School, several children are eagerly learning new letters from their teacher. They sit around an oval table, diving into the fascinating world of the Khmer alphabet. This is a special class, designed for children with disabilities who would struggle to keep up in a regular class setting.

Located in Pouk District of Siem Reap Province, Athip Padei primary School has been involved in the World Bank-supported Social Accountability projects since 2020. You Phally, the school’s principal, says there are several children with disabilities in the communities served by the school. Before the Social Accountability projects, the school was not aware that, in addition to the children with disabilities who attended the school, there were others in their area who stayed at home because of their disabilities. This is because parents had limited understanding of the value of sending their children to school, thinking their disabilities would not allow them to learn, or that schooling would not be of much use to a child with disabilities. Parents were not aware of their children’s rights to education services even if they could not go to school.

Since joining the projects and recognizing the limited access to education that children with disabilities face, the school has worked closely with local communities, project facilitators and committees to develop effective solutions to foster the participation of children with disabilities.

To inform parents of the importance of sending children with disabilities to school, and of the services that children can access from home, Phally has worked with the committees set up by the Social Accountability projects.

“We recognized a need to provide education for children with disabilities and so initiated more activities to promote the enrollment of children with disabilities in our school,” said You Phally, School Principal of Athip Padei Primary School.

Since then, the number of children with disabilities enrolled in the school has increased from nine to 13. The parents of these children quickly noticed a difference. In addition to making academic progress, the children have improved their social and life skills, helping them to navigate everyday life more independently. This transformation not only benefits the children but is also positive for the family, enhancing their overall quality of life.

Lam Tam, a mother of two children with walking impairments, who began in a special class and later progressed to a higher-level general class, is proud of how they have become more confident and sociable.

“Before, they would never join a big group of people”, she says. “They felt shy. Now they are more knowledgeable and know more about society.”

Another mother, Neoun Channeoum, has a child with hearing and speaking impairments, and has noticed significant improvements in her child's writing skills and ability to communicate in general.

The Social Accountability projects play a crucial role in bridging the information gap between service providers and local communities. In the education sector, the projects disseminate information among rural and remote communities on the importance of educating children with disabilities, the rights that all children (including those with disabilities and from low income families) have to receive an education, on the resources available for such children, and on the performance standards that schools are expected to meet. By closing these information gaps and engaging the key stakeholders - service providers, communities, and parents, the projects contribute to changing attitudes and behavior toward children with disabilities.

You Phally points out that teachers used to feel uncomfortable teaching children with disabilities. Through ongoing discussions and meetings to address their questions and concerns, teachers have become aware of children’s needs and of how they can support them with learning. Teachers are now more open to working with children with disabilities, embracing them with open hearts.

Meak Kea, a Athip Padei Primary School teacher who teaches students with disabilities, also notes a big improvement in the behavior of teachers toward these students. He says the teachers have participated in educational programs on this topic, giving them a better understanding of how to support children with disabilities. Teachers now recognize that students with disabilities have the right to go to school and be part of the workforce.

With funding from Germany's KfW Development Bank, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and Australia, the World Bank has been supporting two Social Accountability projects in Cambodia since 2020. The projects are implemented by the National Committee for Subnational Democratic Development Secretariat of the Ministry of Interior and by World Vision International respectively, with the two cooperating closely on joint planning and implementation. .  Recently approved additional financing for these operations will enable the projects to cover 3,844 primary schools across the country until the end of 2025.


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