Education is a major driving force behind the development of any society. As a result, the village school project forms the centrepiece of the cluster project. The combination of high-quality basic training measures that have been adapted to the conditions on site and the dual vocational training

system as practised in Switzerland ensure that the children and young adults partaking in the project will receive the education they need to earn a sufficient and sustainable income for themselves and their families.



he education system in Cambodia is highly localised. It is faced with a host of difficult challenges including a lack of qualified educators and adequate teaching materials and other deficiencies including poor work ethics / professional ethics as educators that can be attributed to low wages. The consequences are frequent class cancellations on account of educators who prefer to pursue secondary employment or collect additional tuition instead of teaching class. Children living in the country only have limited opportunity to attend school as they are often expected to work in the fields. These detrimental conditions have led to profound differences in quality both between individual schools and between urban and rural regions. Overall, parents pay up to six times more for the education of their children than the government. This often results in a family’s inability to send all of their children to school and, in particular, girls dropping out of school and leaving them with a lower level of education compared to their male schoolmates.

The initial situation of the Village School Project is as follows: The closest public village school is currently attended by approximately 620 children and young adults who are instructed by ten teachers. Not included in this number are about 50 children living on the farms of SGC’s agricultural project and other local children who, for whatever reason, are currently not in school at all. Given a teacher / pupil ratio of currently 1/70, it comes as no surprise that the educational outcomes are extremely poor. When taking into account the whole of the local community of Tbeng Khpos, we can assume that the total number of children of school-going age (aged 3 to 15 years) amounts to 2,000 potential pupils. Realising the glaring need for improvement in this area, SGC has vowed to offer their assistance – as education is crucial for the future development of the community.

Schule innen vorher
Kindergarten nachher
village school project
Schule aussen nachher


After completing the renovation of the old school building in 2015, we – in cooperation with the ETH Zurich and Zurich University of Teacher Education – are currently hard at work to make our «Village School Project» a success. The strategy we are pursuing is two-pronged: Firstly, Smiling Gecko is partnering with Zurich University of Teacher Education to develop an educational concept that is adapted to the singular situation in Cambodia and to implement this concept starting with the training of the educators. Secondly, Smiling Gecko is teaming up with the ETH to prepare a constructional infrastructure that is specifically designed to promote learning in preschool to senior high school pupils and that also serves as a signature architectural project that exemplifies sustainability.

Local construction materials, strengthening the value chains found in the region, training craftsmen, regenerative energy concepts and comprehensive programs that include providing nutrition to the pupils are at the heart of our planning efforts. This project has no equal anywhere else in the world as the planning and construction of the buildings marry the latest discoveries in the field of climate change and alternative construction materials with the currently prevailing educational standards. To bring our planning to fruition, we involved from the very beginning the Zurich University of Teacher Education and the Swiss Federal Institute for Water Resources and Water Pollution Control (EAWAG) in Zurich along with several professors working for the architecture department at the ETH.





34 students attending the ETH under the direction of Dirk E. Hebel researched the fundamentals necessary for our new school and formulated 16 individual architectural projects. To this end, the students travelled to Cambodia in 2015 and carefully studied and analysed both the local school system and traditional construction methods and temple complexes such as Angkor Wat. Their research paid particular attention to local building materials and how they might fare in the future given the continuous climatic changes. Based on these individual projects, a project team composed of 5 students and a senior architect prepared a finished and viable project requiring approval, which was finished in December of 2016. After adapting the project to the local regulations, the construction of the school, which will educate more than 1,000 children ranging in age from preschool to high school, will commence in spring of 2017.

The building project involves the construction of various new buildings that will house not only pupils and educators but also the preschool classes. Aside from the school buildings, sanitary facilities, first-aid rooms, a school

cafeteria, a library, sports installations and dwellings for teachers are projected to be built as well. There is a shortage of all of these installations to the present day.

The measures we are taking in the context of the Village School Project help create an innovative, child-oriented and effective learning environment that reflects the latest findings in educational research. Sporting a modular design, the architecture of the school complex requires only simple means to be easily reproduced. Construction relies on regional building materials and takes the local climatic conditions carefully into consideration. Key components of the construction such as the supporting structure and the roof construction can be manufactured and installed by Smiling Gecko’s own carpentry workshop. The modular design of the school complex makes it possible to expand the complex at any time or adapt it to smaller and larger schools and even entirely different purposes (see Sustainable Garment Education & Production) with perfect ease.

Praesentation A3
Praesentation A3


This optimised learning environment allows SG to run a pilot school in the context of a 10-year project that is assisted by members of the Zurich University of Teacher Education under the tutelage of Prof. Dr. Wiltrud Weidinger and Prof. Dr. hc Rolf Gollob. The educators trained here are instructed and educated further based on the latest discoveries made in the field of educational research. The educational approach applied is characterised by three elements.

Firstly, school is defined as a system in which school administrators regard the territory of the school as an environment that operates on democratic principles. Aspects of primary importance in this environment are taking care of the infrastructure, furthering the education of all occupational groups and an interaction between the school and its immediate environment that is well organised and follows set rules. A practical guide for school administrators will be prepared to help educators managing the school further their education.

Secondly, the guidance of our educational partners will educate the teaching staff on how to utilise the teaching aids supplied by the government most effectively and in a way that produces the best possible results. This effort is complemented by additional materials which are developed in cooperation with other local experts. A permanent further training initiative has been established in an effort to give faculty the support they need to thrive in their new role as professional educators. These materials are bolstered by an educational handbook that is developed at the Zurich University of Teacher Education and geared to accommodate the needs and local conditions present in developing and emerging countries.

Thirdly, all opportunities the work and living environment of the Smiling Gecko cluster project has to offer in terms of learning and making new experiences are exploited for educational purposes. The project develops programs that teach specific skills in the areas of agriculture and

horticulture, livestock production, woodworking, bicycle maintenance, irrigation, and textile processing – both in theory and practice. These programs are part of a dynamic curriculum that is made available both to internal pupils and – in the form of course and class camps – to other schools in the area. In addition to taking into account the conditions found locally and nation-wide, the curriculum also considers international experiences and the latest discoveries made in educational research. The main focus of the syllabus are the children and their personal development as well as the outcome of the teaching efforts which are supposed to change the children’s lives for the better.

The VSP aims at assisting the local school in providing education that goes beyond kindergarten and primary school level. In the near future, the school is to teach students at senior level to prepare them for apprenticeships and jobs or to continue their studies at university level. As the existing school is a licensed private school, SGC is required to cooperate closely with the local and regional authorities. It is our expressed objective to quickly establish and maintain a network of public schools that tends to and supports all matters of school education (school administration as well as school development and curriculum development). So far, all schools we approached have declared their eagerness to join us. The SGC Village School Project has become a pilot project that illustrates how development aid in the field of education, based on cooperation with local institutions, can be put to successful use. SGC will continue to work in close cooperation with all national and regional governments. SGC, the Zurich University of Teacher Education, and the ETH work together hand in hand to develop a holistic training concept that can serve as a model for both Cambodia and other countries.

Since not self-supporting for obvious reasons, the school is supposed to be covering its operating costs using the proceeds generated by the remaining pillars of the cluster project.

In cooperation with

ETH Zürich
Dirk Hebel