Calls for Cambodia to Invest More in Digital Education

As Cambodia embraces the Fourth Digital Revolution, organisations are urging the government to invest in ICT education at all levels to fill the widening skills gap.
The demand for ICT skills and occupations increases as Cambodia gradually turns economy to digital-based. Picture: Sam
The demand for ICT skills and occupations increases as Cambodia gradually turns economy to digital-based. Picture: Sam

After finishing high school in 2018, 22-year-old Khun Virak decided to study computer science at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Initially inspired by a love of technology and creative innovation, he persisted through the challenges of learning as part of his quest to become a backend developer after graduating.

Virak is now a Year Four student and is also interning at a tech company as part of his future career goal. It has been six months since he started his internship and through this work, he can apply what he learns at school and discover new skills.

‘’It was quite a challenge at first as I only have basic knowledge and do not know the actual work. But as time goes by, I can adapt myself better to what I am doing,” said Virak.

Khun Virak at coding work
Khun Virak at coding work

As a backend developer, his job mainly focuses on building and maintaining databases, applications and servers. ‘’I love this job because it allows me to create something new and most importantly learn how to solve the problems effectively,” he said.

He loves creative ideas and problem solving. With this he believes he can easily find a well-paid job within the industry.

The demand for ICT skills and occupations has significantly increased as Cambodia gradually turns its economy to digital-based. According to the Digital Assessment Skills report by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute and Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology, demand for these professionals increased 41 percent in 2021. It is estimated to continue increasing by 45 percent in 2022.

‘’In terms of ICT occupations, the top five most required ICT occupations include ICT sales professionals, software and applications developers and analysts, database and network professionals, graphic and multimedia designers, information and communications technology operations, and user support technicians,” the report said.

Alissar Chaker, Resident Representative of UNDP Cambodia, said currently demand for ICT and digital skills and occupations by ICT and non-ICT firms remain higher than available expertise in the market. It is expected that the demand will further increase in the coming years, averaging at 40 percent for ICT firms and 20 percent for non-ICT. Therefore, there is an urgent need to fill the skills gap. The cost of inaction in terms of lost opportunities would be staggering if future skills demand is not met.

‘’Digital transformation promises new efficiencies and growth opportunities at a time when economies are struggling with weak productivity gains and, in some cases, slow GDP growth,” she said.

Chaker added that the Cambodian government identified these signals and launched a 15-year Digital Economy and Social Policy Framework (2021-2035) to promote the digital economy as a new engine of socioeconomic growth.

The policy framework focuses on developing the digital infrastructure, a regulatory environment fostering digital trust and confidence, creating digital citizens, building digital government, and promoting digital business and public-private partnerships. It also prioritizes capacity building, research and digital innovation.

‘’Strengthening STEM education in schools and universities is critical to creating the foundations for digital citizens who have the knowledge and skills to effectively use digital technologies for communication and socioeconomic participation,” she said. ‘’The knowledge of marketplace priorities is also important for guiding curriculum development in technical schools and universities, internships, research, and innovation.’’

Cambodia has been trying to adapt to the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by integrating Information and Communication Technologies in education. However, according to a report by Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation, with weak financial support, mainly in public schools, the country still encounters many challenges.

‘’Cambodia is still spending only less than 2.6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education and many schools lack human and technological resources,” the report said.

It recommends the government heavily invests in ICT infrastructure to develop deeper ICT integration in the education sector. So that it can oversee the implementation progress of the policy of higher education vision 2030, as well as develop a nationwide initiative to facilitate teachers to implement creative teaching methods by using ICT.

Daniel Schmücking, the foundation’s country director, said highly professional and modernized education is the main source of a country’s future development. He added that while Cambodia is moving on the right path, it can do more to improve the education system by investing more into the sector at all levels.

‘’Most importantly there is a strong need for the internationalization of higher education institutions in Cambodia. We would like to see more high-standard, international university partnerships. And it is important that the universities shift from pure teaching to research-focused institutions,” said the foundation’s director.