Recent research from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has shown that students in Grade 3 struggle with writing proficiency in their native language, with a 65% failure rate at writing sentences correctly. Their vocabulary is limited, and their dictation scores are also under 40% correct. Writing is an important part of our daily lives, and the data is showing that the children of Cambodia are struggling to write, and to dictate, correctly.
A new app, Sor Se Khmer (Khmer Writing), has been created to help children improve their Khmer writing, vocabulary, and speech. Developed by the InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia, and supported by The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER), the group has been working in cooperation with Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE) to develop this new application to help primary school students. The application combines written comprehension with visual and audio cues, creating an immersive experience for a young, curious, mind.
The InSTEDD Innovation Camp (iCamp) is a one-day rapid prototyping workshop designed to support development actors with a design thinking process and exploration of ICT4D solutions. Participants are paired for the day with iLab designers and developers who assist them in identifying opportunities for ICT integration and in designing technically viable concepts.
Through the InSTEDD iCamp, participating organizations presented challenges related to their work, which were then voted by all participants to be analyzed, designed, tested, and iterated. Inspired by an earlier iCamp event, eight use cases were presented by 14 organizations, with four advancing to the prototype stage. Prototypes included ideas to report sexual abuse, to educate on environmental issues, to inform on safe migration, and to educate youth to learn Khmer. The prototype idea that demonstrated the largest potential impact, with the best chance of feasibility would be selected to receive an offer from the iLab to carry the idea to an incubation stage.
The Incubation Period
During the current three month incubation period, Mr. Chhorn Chhayyuth, Educational Technology Coordinator from KAPE, is working closely with the iLab SEA team to develop the Khmer Writing application. A research field trip on Usability and Functionality Testing on the newly developed app was conducted at Veal Vong Primary School, Kampong Cham province with Grade One to Grade Three student and teachers. The main purpose was to observe, test and validate with real students as part of the iLab’s human-centered design process.
After testing, the team observed that all students were excited and enjoyed with this visual, interactive approach to learning Khmer. Students particularly enjoyed interacting with their teachers, using letters, pictures and audio. The children could learn vocabulary while playing what felt like an entertaining game.
The challenges that were discovered on the research trip were:
- Usability: The team noticed that some students were afraid of using the tablet, while some had difficulty using their hand to write on the screen. So, the team must ensure that the application that they are developing is kid-friendly, and easy to use.
- Design and interaction: While students were testing on the prototype application during our field test, the team noticed students had a hard time reading the instructions, and the children had difficulty understanding how to begin. The team is thinking of revising the app with audio instructions to make the app more interactive and simpler for children to follow.
- Content: The team has to spend time to search for interesting imagery and audio to catch student’s attention. The content must be similar to the textbooks that the children are accustomed to using.
The iLab SEA team, along with the support of KAPE, feels confident that the Khmer Writing app is nearly ready for pilot testing in ten public primary schools in the Svay Rieng Provinces, starting in May 2017 to August 2017. After the pilot period, the following schools year will see the Khmer writing application scaled to 25 schools in Svay Rieng, Kampong Chhnang, Tboung Khmum, and Kampong Cham Province.