In a concrete room sit thirty-five students in blue and white school uniforms, eyes glued to computer screens, hands gliding across tabletops moving a mouse. This is the everyday scene at the Computer Lab of New Generational School at Preah Sisowath High School. One young woman, Muon, a seventh grader, turns away from her computer screen to tell me that this is her favorite class, that she “loves the computer lab.”
Another 6th grader, Vatey, is new to the school, but is so impressed by the computer lab that she confides in me that she “thinks she is going to be in good hands here.” After an introduction to her new school, she is amazed and excited to soon learn how to code. She says “I did have classes around computers at my previous school, but it was nowhere near as fun and interesting.” She had previously learned to use a computer for academic purposes like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, but nothing about building websites, games, apps, coding on robots, and more, that she would soon have access to here.
The thrill that Vatey feels to learn advanced computer subjects is not unique to just her, nor just the thirty-five students seated in this computer lab. Young people all over Cambodia have an interest in information technology, and although the country has typically not had this type of training available, that is beginning to change.
The Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has developed its Information and Communication Technology Education Plan and has integrated it into a national curriculum for students from grade 4 to grade 12. For its first phase of the program, MoEYS has partnered with Kampuchea Action for Primary Education (KAPE) and InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia to pilot a computer training curriculum for students in grade 7 to grade 11 at four NGS schools. NGS Preah Sisowath High School began in October 2018 while the other three high schools (Prek Leap, Prek Anhjanh and Kampong Cham High School) start in mid-October 2018.
InSTEDD, who is in charge of building curriculum has adopted lessons from cord.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented youth. To secure the sustainability of the entire program, the core team focuses on Training to Trainers (TOT) from those 4 NGS , because they are the one to pass on the knowledge to more students and with that, the positive impact is believed to be expanded into a large scale for long term.
“The participation of InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia has taken the Information Technology curriculum to a whole new level,” said Chim Chanda, a computer instructor at Preah Sisowath High School. According to Chanda, the new curriculum adopted from code.org by InSTEDD is helping students broaden their problem-solving skills, and allowing for creativity as they create websites and games, for example.
Currently, there are 12 teachers like Chanda who are undergoing intensive IT training from the InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia team, to better ensure a quality technical education to the 2,431 students attending the 4 NGS schools.
Although the Training to Teacher (TOT) program has been successfully finished in early of April, the impact of the program still continues to root and grow like mentioned earlier through the first-hand knowledge passing from teachers who attended the TOT to their students. Students are now working on their own programming, building an app, website, and game on their own and they will be displayed in the upcoming Parent Night Show.
On top of that, some of the computer creations of the NGS students have already been showcased in several ICT events such as the 5th STEM festival in Phnom Penh, held in February 2019. “This is a positive outcome that students have made and I am sure that there is more to come in the future,” said Chanda.
(Words by Sovanpidor Ham)