Sun Sokna | Ta Pen Primary and Secondary School |Siem Reap |Cambodia
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shocking and far-reaching effects on the education of millions of students all around the world. It has forced schools and universities to shut down as countries applied staged lockdown measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. In Cambodia, all public and private schools from kindergartens to universities across the country were ordered closed in mid-March. All of a sudden, online learning has become the country’s only means for the continuation of education for Cambodian students.
By resorting to online learning or e-learning, Cambodia has been able to continue to provide education to 3.2 million students. The flexibility and adoption of online education was ad hoc and therefore posed new challenges. Problems with the lack of access to online learning platforms have led to further unequal opportunities for learning. The inadequacy of infrastructure for online education has also left a great number of students in rural areas behind, while poor technological skills among many education staff throughout the country have made online education a cumbersome job to do. All of these mean that more than three million students have to wait for the coronavirus period to pass before they could return to normal face-to-face lessons.
The old normal is not going to happen anytime soon given the current situation although the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has allowed many schools and public universities to reopen. MoEYS has been faced with real pressure to digitalize the education system overnight, mainly to respond to the disruption to education when COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be manufactured. In this situation, reforms to traditional classrooms and pedagogy are needed in order for Cambodia to catch up with that in the region and in the rest of the world.
As a national institution responsible for the education of Cambodians, MoEYS needs to continue to work with partners and the private sector to create special apps and websites for teachers and students to use. These online platforms have played a fundamental role in modernizing teaching and learning in Cambodia. Teachers and students can access these platforms at any time via smartphones or other electronic devices. However, students in rural areas still face challenges to access these platforms because some of them who come from low-income families are unable to purchase digital devices to use for their educational purposes. The internet accessibility is another obstacle as students in remote parts of the country may not have access to the internet or electricity. Thus, MoEYS needs to step up and work with all relevant stakeholders to improve access to online education nationwide.
In addition, technical teams must be formed to help with technological issues and enable the smooth operation of online education. Technical staff should be able to play various roles, including introducing and maintaining a digital learning system, training teachers and students to use it, fixing or improving the system based on feedback from users, and giving consultation and technical assistance to principals, teachers and students. As e-learning specialists and operators, each member of the technical team should be well trained and equipped with knowledge of the teaching and learning process. More importantly, they should have good communication skills and know how to encourage, empower, and engage with teachers and students enthusiastically to build trust among the system users.
What the government must do is to continue to invest in online education on a national scale to ensure that all children can learn during and after the COVID-19 crisis without significant interruptions. Key partners and groups such as UNESCO, UNICEF, Cambodian Union of Youth Federation and other partners including NGOs and private companies can provide support necessary to establish robust online learning systems that schools and students across the country need.
I argue that Cambodia’s education system will transform itself and begin to catch up with the rest of the world only when technology is utilized to help students learn in a modern way. Modern learning devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers as well as good internet connection with national coverage are needed. Across the world, online education systems have been widely used to support students’ learning. To enhance its competitiveness, Cambodia must increase its investment in education, including online education, as this county needs capable human resources required to achieve its development vision.
In short, Cambodia must continue to invest in online education infrastructure and engage in deep education reforms to improve the education system that can produce quality human capital to drive economic growth. It is, no doubt, vital to modernize the education system that has long been regarded as underdeveloped, characterised by the lack of quality and innovation. Cambodia needs to prioritize the development of its education system and ensure that all Cambodians, especially the young, are provided with equal opportunities receive quality education.
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SUN Sokna is an English Program Manager and English teacher at Ta Pen Primary and Secondary School, fully sponsored by Le Don du Choeur. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the University of South-East Asia, Siem Reap, Cambodia. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Build Bright University in Siem Reap. He has worked as a senior English teacher for Opportunities of Development thru Art in Siem Reap.
This article was previously published by Cambodian Education Forum on October 25, 2020