What do you say to a 12 year old who has decided to leave school?

What do you say to a 12 year old who has decided to leave school?Well first of all you might ask “how is it that a 12 year old gets to make that decision?” because where you and I come from if a 12 year old decided she wasn’t going to school, we’d send her anyway right? But that’s in a country where school attendance is required by law and that law is enforced and parents held accountable. In Cambodia it’s law that schools are provided up to grade 9. It doesn’t exactly say that it’s law that children attend them until grade 9. In fact the Department of Education refer to it as a suggestion. So if a child of any age decides to leave school, there is no-one to enforce otherwise, it’s a matter for the child and parents.In this case, her parents are working away in a different province, and this 12 year old and her younger brother are largely being cared for by their Aunt and Grandmother. Grandma tells us she’s told her to go to school but she won’t, and doesn’t know what else she can say or do, and Aunt has permitted her own children to leave school, so she doesn’t exactly value education highly. So it comes down to us.

Here you see Free To Shine’s Education Officers engaging her in conversation, listening to and empathising with her reasons for not wanting to go to school, and encouraging and motivating her.While this is just a short video clip the meeting - the listening, empathising, motivating and encouraging - actually went on for the best part of 50 minutes. I asked our team why we don’t just tell her to go to school and then check with her teacher to make sure she does. They just looked at me, so I explained that if I’d have decided I wasn’t going to school my mum would have told me I had to and I’d have followed her direction. But that’s in a country where parents have been to school, it’s required by law, and parents who fail to comply are held accountable. There is nobody here in this rural village with the authority to instruct a child to go to school, only to tell her that they think she should.As my team point out to me, if we tell her to go to school she’ll simply agree while we’re here with her. It doesn’t mean she’ll actually go every day. And since she doesn’t live with us we can’t enforce it on a daily basis. So she’s got to want to go to school, hence all the motivating and encouraging and explaining of the longer term benefits, so that ultimately she herself wants to go.We leave the meeting with her agreeing to go to school every day next week, and us speaking to her teacher to check that she does.“What will you do,” I ask our Education Officers, “if you learn she didn’t go to school?”“We’ll refer her to our Social Work program for intensive interventions.”Perfect.Not every problem is solved in a day.-Nicky Mih, Managing Director