It has been more than two weeks that Siem Reap resident Orm Phally has had her daughter at home. The teenager does not have much to do and her mother has increased her daily chores to keep her occupied.
So, Suos Kanha Rosa, who would usually be busy with schoolwork, is now in charge of cleaning the dishes, washing the clothes and other household work, occasionally mixed in with some reading.
“Staying at home is boring,” she said at her mother’s small grocery store. “I sometimes read books, sometimes my mum asks me to wash clothes, so I do it.”
The 14-year-old is reluctantly following a two-week school closure announced by Cambodian officials on March 7, after a resident in the town tested positive for the novel coronavirus days before.
But two weeks later, the closures have now been extended indefinitely to all education institutions across the country, according to a government statement released on Monday, extending Kanha Rosa’s “boring” stay at home.
The ministry also announced it would start “e-learning” classes, though little detail has been provided on how these lessons will be conducted. Nearly 30,000 primary school students and around 20,000 secondary and high school students are affected by the closures, according to provincial Education Department statistics.
The school closures have made it hard for working parents to supervise their children or ensure that they are not falling back on their lessons.
Orm Phally, 43, said she was concerned that Kanha Rosa will forget her lessons if she does not revise them regularly. This could mean Kanha Rosa will fail her examinations that were supposed to start on March 16, feared Orm Phally.
“We are concerned by this [virus]. But, on the other hand, I worry that my child will not pass the exams,” Orm Phally said.
The concern is expressed by Kanha Rosa, who said she is trying to at least keep up with her mathematics lessons.
“I feel scared too of forgetting the lessons because I am afraid that my teachers will hold the exams when I go back to school,” she said.
Schools, universities and vocational training institutes across the country are normally buzzing with students, food vendors and stationery sellers. But none of this bustle was seen around schools in Siem Reap, most bearing a barren look.
Inside 10 Makara 1979 High School, Sean Thy is finishing up some construction work at the school’s central hall. The 50-year-old works as an assistant to the principal.
He said the school had been given no indication when classes would resume, admitting that there was a chance teachers would have to aggregate grades over the last three months, to give students their final grade for the term.
“For the semester score, we will divide the scores for the last three months to see average score for the semester. We will do this way, and that’s all,” he said.
In the meanwhile, Sean Thy said teachers and staffers had sanitized the premises and were preparing for students’ return by installing alcohol-based hand washes for the more than 5,000 students in grades 7 to 12.
The school assistant was unaware of the e-learning classes announced by the ministry, adding that supplementary classes held by teachers after school hours had been stopped as well.
“[Students] have to keep this time to learn by themselves,” he said. “Parents must help teach their children because the students are now not allowed to meet each other.”
Ly Bunna, acting director for the province’s Education Department, said that the ministry had distributed books for self-study, but said primary, secondary and high schools were preparing e-learning lessons, though again unable to provide details of this online pedagogy.
“For the first stage, we could encounter some difficulties. But it could get easier step by step,” he said.
In the dark about how to school their children at home, parents across the temple town hoped schools would reopen soon, in part because their children were sitting idle at home.
Run Saroeun, 35, is busy cutting harvested sugarcane at her home in Siem Reap province’s Sala Kamroeuk commune. Her children were either sitting idle or spending hours on their smartphones, said the mother of two sons, not once stopping her work.
“Keeping them at home, they feel stressed out,” Run Saroeun said. “But if they go to school, they will have fun with his friends. I don’t want them to just stay at home.”
Back in town, Noun Saren has one child in primary school, with two others at Hun Sen Wat Svay High School. The street side noodle vendor said it was the right decision for authorities to shut down the schools to cease the spread of the virus.
But only as long as they had a plan to help children make up the lost school days, she said.
“For the kids, if they took long break from [school], they would forget what they learned,” Noun Saren said.
While parents ponder over lost lessons and upcoming examinations, teenagers like Kanha Rosa just want to see their friends again and enjoy the small pleasures.
“[Normally] when our class takes recess, we grab at each other’s snacks,” she said. “Yes, it was fun. I want to go back to that time.”