Technology education

Cambodia’s Female Coder

Rith Sovandalin aims to inspire a generation of female coders across Cambodia with her innovative string of projects.
Rith Sovandalin. Picture: Sam
Rith Sovandalin. Picture: Sam

Having always harbored an interest in tech and innovation, a young and enthusiastic Rith Sovandalin started exploring her passion of ‘’coding” at the age of 13. Despite the social norm and lack of family’s support, Sovandalin managed to overcome these emerging obstacles and is now recognized as a role model for other young girls to look up to.

In November, Rith Sovandalin, a high school fresh graduate, launched ’Code for Girls’ with the aim of promoting basic coding skills to girls and women, specifically those who live in rural provinces. During the first phase she said, the project has provided online training to 30 students on how to make short animation and games. ‘’Among the 30 students, most of them live in provinces and they are likely to enjoy the course provided and strive to learn more about coding,” she said.

Rith Sovandalin as reflected in her laptop. Picture: Sam
Rith Sovandalin as reflected in her laptop. Picture: Sam

Sovandalin said girls and women are rarely encouraged to pursue or learn about coding or any majors related to ICT. Instead, they are steered down different paths as they think she said, it is only a job for men and only men.

‘’My family does not really support what I am doing, but still I will always do my best to inspire other girls and women to follow their dreams,” said Sovandalin.

The 18-year-old said that she started learning coding through YouTube and other online sources since she was in Grade 7. From the very beginning she said she did not receive support from her family and still does not to this day.

‘’They want me to be an accountant or financial specialist as they think coding is only for men. Despite these challenges, it cannot stop me from doing what I love,” said Sovandalin.

Sovandalin added she loves tech and innovation and has joined several competitions and workshops. She said Code for Girls is not the first project she has been involved in. ‘’I used to be a STEM Sisters Cambodia leader at my school and joined competitions in creating mobile applications and a solar charging system as well,” said Sovandalin.

Rith Sovandalin. Picture: Sam
Rith Sovandalin. Picture: Sam

Besides the Code for Girls, Sovandalin and her team plan to run two other projects, which are slated to take place in the middle of this month. She said the projects still focus on coding, but have more advanced lessons.

After finishing high school, the Code for Girls founder said she will pursue majors related to Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI). She also continues to find funds to support her project and aims to make it sustainable.

‘’I think coding and majors related to STEM will play a significant role in developing our country’s economy as now everything is turning to digital based,” she said.

Hem Chanthida is one of the participants who joined the Code for Girls project.

Chantida, 16, said she is also interested in learning how to write code even if there is no one in her family majoring or having a career in this field. So, when the Code for Girls was established, Chanthida did not hesitate to join even though she does not have any basic knowledge about coding.

‘’I was always curious about what code really is. I heard it is used to develop mobile applications and other useful functions. This really convinced me to give it a try,” said Chanthida.

Chanthida said during the training, she has learnt some basic steps of coding that she had always wanted to know and has now become a reality. ‘’It was fun and interesting and it is not as difficult as people said,” said Chanthida.

More Cambodians have been seen doing degrees in Computer Science and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). According to the Digital Skills Assessment Report by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute and Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology, 7.7 percent of Cambodians were enrolled in IT courses and 25 percent in STEM in 2019. Despite enrolments increasing, there is still a large gender gap as ‘’Female represent only 16 percent of the total enrolment”.

Rous Soveacha, spokesman at the Ministry of Education Youth and Sports said the Ministry has been trying to promote STEM learning by implementing more innovative curriculums. ‘’With this, the Ministry is also trying to promote gender in STEM learning,” said Soveacha.

The same report said the demand for ICT skills will rise to 45 percent next year as base and network professionals, user support technical skills, and software developer and analysts are among the most needed positions.