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Star Scholar Urges Classmates to Stay in School

Star scholar An Mally leads a student group discussion. One of the group's most important functions is reaching out to the absent students and convincing them to return to the classroom.
An Mally, age 12, knows that it is very important to attend school regularly. She observes that students who are frequently absent fall behind, get lower grades, and become undisciplined. Yet all students from remote villages like Koh Khnhaer, on the banks of the river Mekong in Cambodia, live far away from school. An Mally grew up in Koh Khnaer and knows how difficult this commute is. She also knows children who are forced to stay at home and work to support her family.

An Mally is the second child of five and her parents are farmers. She is in Grade Seven at Ou Krieng Junior High School. She likes to study, and this is reflected in her high scores and grades every month. An Mally has been able to avoid the fate of many students from rural Cambodia because she was awarded an Improved Basic Education in Cambodia (IBEC)-USAID scholarship that enables her to board at the school.

Praised as an exceptional student and a good example for her classmates, the school director has made An Mally a group leader. One of her responsibilities as a student group leader is checking the attendance of students in her class and reporting back to the principal every week. Sometimes she visits absent friends in their homes to explain the importance of school and tries to persuade them to come back.

IBEC, a project of World Education, works hard at keeping students in school and with good reason: student dropout is widespread and that lack of education restricts future opportunities. IBEC surveys reveal that the leading cause of dropout among students is the need to work outside the home, closely followed by the need to help parents work at home. A significant percentage of students (29%), give no reason for dropping out. This is because many parents in rural Cambodia do not consider education an important part of planning for their child's future. Scholarships and outreach by student groups (such as the one An Mally participates in) are two of the methods IBEC employs to keep children in school.

This year, An Mally persuaded three long-absent friends to return to class. She tried to get two more absent classmates to attend, but reports that their families would not let them. "Their families are very poor," An Mally says. "Both of them are supporting their families by working full-time in a new factory near the village. Their names have been eliminated from the school list."