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Closing the gap: How a well-trained teacher helped an older student catch up

June 25, 2024

Skill building Educator training and coaching Cambodia

Beyond the rubber tree plantations of the Dambe district, in Tbong Khmum province in the central lowlands of Cambodia’s Mekong River, sits a primary school where, in a Grade 1 classroom, 13-year-old Meng has just learned to read. 

The bell rings loudly: Meung! Meung! Meung! Students hurry out of their classrooms. Some head to the brand-new school library, lined with shelves of colorful books. Others walk to the schoolyard to play. Inside the first-grade classroom, an older boy stands at the whiteboard and guides younger students through the practice of sounding out syllables.  
At 13, Meng towers above his Grade 1 classmates. He has just transferred to the region. His mother has recently passed and Meng is now living with his uncle. He should be in the sixth grade.


"I tested Meng's reading ability when he first enrolled," shared Touch Pisey, a Grade 1 teacher at Meng’s school. "He could not read even a single word."
After tests revealed a lack of literacy skills, school administrators told Meng that he could not continue to Grade 6 as he had anticipated. He would have to return to Grade 1.

"At first, I was ashamed," Meng reflected with sadness. "I was so big compared to other Grade 1 students in the class. I stood out. My teacher told me I had to start again from the first grade, and I was devastated." 
That same year, Room to Read partnered with Meng’s primary school. Our literacy team immediately established a warm and welcoming library space for children. And we supported teachers, librarians and school directors with training on literacy best practices, early grade instruction methods and library reading activities.  
"After receiving training on Room to Read’s literacy package, I’ve become proficient in teaching reading!" Ms. Pisey shared. "I find that this method is very effective. By supplementing lessons with quality story books, reading time and a variety of reading activities, children tend to read more on their own and are more engaged in their literacy lessons."
Ms. Pisey described how the new approach has helped her students — Meng in particular — learn to read and write quickly. In just a few months, she shared, she was able to close the gap in Meng’s education and teach him to read and write with confidence.  

"Meng likes reading now!" Ms. Pisey exclaimed. "His reading is so strong he can now help other students read syllables during break time."
Meng is similarly excited about the transformation.  
"I'm so pleased that I can read!" he said, his smile wide. "I thank my teacher for guiding me through the lessons and encouraging me to visit the library to keep practicing. I will use what I gained from her to help my classmates to be able to read like me."

Help ensure more students like Meng can access the educators and resources they need to read, learn and grow.