Want to visit a public school when in South East Asia? Think again.

You know what really ticks me off? When I come across tourists visiting public schools in Cambodia. They interrupt classes, make students pose for photos and pretty much act all high and mighty. In addition to this, many give out presents. By providing children with presents, they are creating a ‘normal’ image for this kind of behaviour. It shouldn’t be normal. Would you go to a school in Australia and start handing out presents to kids you don’t know? No. The police would most likely be called. So why are we throwing all our common sense out the window when visiting developing countries?

Picture this. Seriously, just close your eyes and imagine. Your child/sibling/cousin is sitting in class, learning…I don’t know, maybe mathematics. Concentrating. Trying to work out a formula, trying to make sense of what is before them. They have almost got it. It suddenly starts to dawn on them and…..*click click click*. A tourist has walked into the classroom. That’s right, another one. A stranger who does not know your child/cousin/sibling, but is taking photos of her/him while they are just trying to get an education. The class stops working. They have to entertain the tourists, pretend that they matter, just in the hope that the school may get a donation. Smile, laugh, pose for photos, act as though their presence is more important than getting an education. Sooner or later, your child/cousin/sibling will begin to think of this as a normal situation, that foreigners are ‘saviours’ and that it is just a regular part of their schooling for these outsiders to treat them as tourist attractions.

Would you allow this to happen at your child/cousin/sibling’s school? Well if you lived in Cambodia, it seems as though you wouldn’t have a choice. Many companies offer travel packages that include visits to public schools that are as common as a trip to Angkor Wat. They encourage this kind of behaviour, and independent tour guides and hoteliers are, too. But we, as smart travellers, have a choice. We can stand up and say no. We can make informed choices, and put ourselves in the shoes of the children and their families. They deserve an uninterrupted education, one that doesn’t have conditions on it. If you want to support public school education in Cambodia, PLEASE, do so! Just do it in a way that doesn’t involve photographs and trips to the classroom.

We all deserve dignity and respect.