Talking about online education in Cambodia seems en entire challenge. It is a rural country, where more than 70 percent of people live in farms and it is also enlisted among one of the poorer countries of Asia. Nobody would assume that Cambodian children and youth would have enough access to the Internet. However, when people talk about online education during the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, many assume that it has to see only with the Internet. Digital societies forget the traditional media such as radio and television.
In 2011 Cambodia lived the top moment of cell phone access with different phone companies around the country and the installation of several antennas of telecommunication. As a result, most Cambodians have today at least one cell phone and better possibilities to Internet access. The most popular platforms in the country are Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram. In this background, it is possible to talk of an online education strategy in the middle of a pandemic with a meaningful access of children and youth.
The Cambodian Ministry of Education is leading a process of online education in the country to guarantee that students do not delay their academic year, while sanitary authorities fight the spread of Covid19. Since March 13 all public schools closed and there is not yet a define date of opening. However, it has encouraged the development of what, just months ago, was something seem of the future.
Students from public schools are invited to access different platforms such as television, radio and Internet (like Facebook) and there is limited physical organization of small groups of 9 to 12th grade students (maximum of ten) that meet to follow the academic programs in the different regions. Probably, it means also that many students along the country could not enjoy the opportunities of the different technologies, but at least it is a good try with positive outcomes.
We can see primary and secondary students going around too, being committed with their own students. At least, the pandemic, among the foreseeing disasters, will bring also its own benefits and one will be of Cambodian teachers and students with more familiarity with technologies and these ones at the service of the education.
One example of an organised system of online education is of the Don Bosco Technical School and Children Fund of Kep Province. It has been the first educative institution in the country that went immediately to the online education experience as soon as public and private schools sent students home.
“Since January we were following the developments of the decease around the world and we thought it would come to Cambodian as well. We started to prepare our students and teachers on how to turn their cell phones in classrooms if the time to go into quarantine would come,” said Fr. Ly Samnang, a Salesian of Don Bosco who is the rector of this educative charitable organisation.
Since the closure of schools in Cambodia in March, more than 300 students of the Don Bosco technical school are getting information through the Internet to guarantee the continuity of their academic year.
According to a research by IT expert and British volunteer at Don Bosco Kep, Mr. Andy Prize, during this time of online academic experience (March to May 2020), the technical students got most of their academic assignments and interactions with their teachers through Telegram and Facebook. Lessons and assignments were communicated to them using video clips made by the teachers in these two social networks.
Mr. Prize discovered also that a big proportion of students of the first year of the academic cycle use cell phones and those of the second year use laptops. It is important to know, because the students of Don Bosco come from rural areas of Kep, Kampot and Takeo and belong to impoverished communities. It demonstrates also that cell phones and laptop computers are not a luxury in Cambodia anymore and then it can be transformed in a great opportunity for education and other future plans of development. In the research of Mr. Prize, the level of fulfilment of assignments sent to students is very high, only with a few group of students that do not answer or are difficult to contact.
“Our teachers do not rely only on the Internet to motivate our students,” explains Fr. Ly Samnang, “it is important to call directly to the student or their parents to make sure that they will get ready to start the process. In the case a student expresses their difficulties to follow due to poor Internet connection or lack of any technical recourse, we look for ways to guarantee their right to education.”
At the moment, the technical programs of Don Bosco in Kep Province are trying with the newest offering of Google Classroom, a cloud-like platform that allows students and teachers to interact in a more near-to-physical experience.