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Teacher Prize Nominee a ‘Pioneer’ in Curriculum for Blind, Deaf

Ms. Neang Phalla, a Cambodian teacher of blind students is among 10 nominees for the Global Teacher Prize 2015. (Courtesy of Krousar Thmey)
Ms. Neang Phalla, a Cambodian teacher of blind students is among 10 nominees for the Global Teacher Prize 2015. (Courtesy of Krousar Thmey)

Cambodia’s deaf and blind communities are underrepresented in all aspects of society. But making education accessible to them means building a better future, says Neang Phalla, a teacher who recently was nominated for a Global Teacher Prize.

Neang Phalla, who works at an organization called Krousar Thmey, or New Family, helped create a Khmer-language Braille alphabet, in 1993, and has taught hundreds of children over the years.

“When we provide special tools in learning to these disabled children, they can learn and obtain an education too,” she said in an interview.

Neang Phalla was among 10 finalists for the inaugural Global Teacher Prize, for her pioneering approach to learning, which “emphasize the senses of touch and hearing rather than sight, and [where] music is a central part of her curriculum,” organizers said.

The $1 million prize was ultimately awarded to an American teacher, but Neang Phalla says she will continue her work in Cambodia.

Over the past 20 years, Neang Phalla has dedicated her work to making education accessible for blind and deaf children across Cambodia. Krousar Thmey is a non-profit and humanitarian organization for underprivileged children in Cambodia, founded in 1993 in the refugee camps in Thailand. It now has 400 employees, teaching more than 2,000 children.

The Braille she developed has helped Neang Phalla teach many children. “The educational program at Krousar Thmey is the same as the educational program designed by the Ministry of Education, including computer skills, English, and music,” she said in an interview, before the announcement of the award, in Dubai.

Neang Phalla said she is able to stay passionate because her students continue to do well, becoming active members of society. “My work has been very successful, as we have received support from the Cambodian government,” she said. “Many of my students started working for government institutions, and some work as English and computer teachers.”

The award was announced Sunday, going to Nancy Atwell, a teacher in the US state of Maine.

Benoit Duchateau-Arminjon, founder of Krousar Thmey, said he was disappointed in the result, but also proud that Neang Phalla had received so much support from around the world, especially from Cambodians, both in county and abroad.

Neang Phalla said the nomination was an honor, not just for her, but “for Cambodia, for teachers at Krousar Thmey, and all teachers across Cambodia.”