By Chea Sameang
An innovative digital platform is aiming to elevate Cambodian kids’ Khmer literacy by providing stacks of reading materials online.
Seth Sofilta, 31 of Kompong Thom province, is the founder and operation lead at REAN ANN. He said he was inspired to create the educational website due the huge gap of Khmer reading performance at public schools.
He added that in mid-2021, while he was coaching fellow teachers at the Teach for Cambodia Organization about teaching instruction and pedagogy, he saw a huge gap of reading performance in Grade 7 and 8 students. He then started to research the reasons why.
After conducting research, he found that the lack of reading support offered before primary school and the early stages of primary school were a root cause that prevented kids from being able to read Khmer properly.
According to an OECD in 2018 report, 41% of 15-year-old Cambodian children are able to read below the basic level of reading in Khmer.
With his long teaching experiences, he also saw a new trend emerging. Despite kids having smartphones, they rarely read E-books or paper books and often watch YouTube instead.
He also noted another root cause relating to the availability of reading resources in Khmer. In spite of a handful of organizations translating and publishing many books with pictures to attract youngsters, he said it is not enough.
Noting the YouTube trend among youth, he decided to create educational videos taken from old Khmer stories and mixed them with animation, subtitles and audio.
At the end of each short story there features a question to challenge viewers about what they have learnt after watching the videos. Beside the Khmer videos, REAN ANN also develops videos that show the teaching methods for the foundations of Khmer grammar that make it easier for kids to read at an early stage before primary school.
Sofilta added that REAN ANN also features a video, or smart, library of Khmer fairy tales for children aged 3 to 12. Additionally, the Smart Library provides children with a fun learning environment and online safety to further help improve children's reading.
Initially, Sofilta faced several challenges with his new initiative. However, one of the main struggles was team availability because they are volunteers. The team has their own personal jobs to complete even though they have the same goal to enhance the reading culture for Cambodian kids.
Recently, REAN ANN had more than 100 videos posted on the website that are beneficial for parents, kids and teachers to easily access. To date, REAN ANN has more than 3,000 people using the library, 400 people in its Telegram group, and 2,000 followers on its Facebook page.
Sofilta added the REAN ANN team has also reached out to public schools in Phnom Penh and Kompong Chhnang province to collaborate. He is encouraging teachers to share the smart library website to pupils by showing them through digital slides rather than telling them to bring hard books to read that could make kids feel bored.
Despite the struggles, the team still finds ways to meet the goal and vision. And their unwavering commitment and strong will led to REAN ANN scooping the top spot for the "Outstanding Business Award" at Cambodian Entrepreneur Awards in Innovation Business 2021.
Sofilta added that he and his team are building a mobile app for parents, teachers, and especially Cambodian kids to enhance their Khmer reading capacity.
Head of Business Learning Partnership, Chhe Dany told Kiripost that REAN ANN has only just started to build its foundations. She added more time is needed to expand in order to reduce Khmer illiteracy rates.
“I think that recently REAN ANN has reduced the rate of illiteracy but not as a whole. This means we are only at the beginning and we need more time to do more. However, when REAN ANN starts to expand and is well-known by kids, I believe we can really help to reduce the illiteracy or hard-to-read Khmer language for Cambodian kids and they will benefit for their studies,” she said.
In line with the belief that all children have the right to learn, whatever their circumstances, adequate support for learning is crucial for them to develop to their full potential.
“I hope the mobile app that my team is developing will be accessible for Cambodian kids across the whole country, and we will try as much as possible to find ways that make parents, teachers and kids access our content” she added.
Ros Soveacha, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport spokesman, told Kiripost that the ministry really welcomes and thanks all collaborations from public and private institutions, teachers, students’ parents, local authorities and other actors who are willing to help to enhance the quality of education and expand reading planforms.
It is Sofilta’s dream to see Cambodian kids read Khmer properly, and he hopes the mobile app will be used by Cambodian kids.
With regard to content, the team does not only want to develop the educational videos but wants to produce more content, such as videos about critical thinking and health education surrounding topics early school and primary school pupils should be aware of.