Innovative online startups are making strives to help Cambodia’s education sector recover from pandemic-induced school closures that impacted an estimated 3.2 million students countrywide.
Child enrollment in primary education rose from 82 percent in 1997 to more than 97 percent in the school year 2017-2018, according to UNICEF Cambodia.
However, COVID-19 has affected the sector, resulting in 3.2 million students being affected by school closures in March 2020. In response, there has been a growth in startups aiming to address the issue and find ideas to improve the education sector.
Dang Kouv (Caterpillars): connecting students with tutoring sessions
Chouly Thy, Dang Kouv co-founder, is a second-year student at IPU Tertiary Institute New Zealand, majoring in International Business. Learning from her own experiences during her high school years, her desire is to innovate through Dang Kouv.
Dang Kouv is a startup that connects high school students with tutors they are satisfied with, especially helping them to achieve their academic goals. She encourages the flexibility and ability of learning.
Taking a year gap from her studies in 2020, Chouly started to discover what she should learn to prepare herself for university. She found an online platform that provides short courses that connect with more than 200 leading universities and offers learning opportunities worldwide.
In late 2021, Chouly launched Dang Kouv in Angkor 500, a startup generation program in partnership with Khmer Enterprise that provides training to startups. With five co-founders, Thy Chouly, Sivhuor Huot, Kimchhong Ley, Soreach Loeung, and Sovichet Heng, the team is dedicated to bringing a culture of seniors teaching juniors to their startup.
"Dang Kouv is a service that helps students find a tutor that they feel satisfied with, to achieve students’ academic goals. We see an opportunity in innovating a new way of learning for high school students to improve their ability of learning," said Chouly, co-founder and CEO of the edtech startup.
Chouly believes that sharing experiences and the innovative way of sharing knowledge are playing roles in helping the educational system move forward.
The 18-year-old said students must study online during the pandemic and encouraged them to take advantage of the situation by not just studying from within their community but from across the country via online learning. This enables students to gain knowledge and experience outside the place they live while improving themselves in studying.
She added, "We encourage college students to share experiences of their studies to juniors [students] as well. They can improve themselves because when we teach other people, we also learn. So, we are motivated to have a sharing culture. When they teach, they know how to manage, prepare, and design the classroom."
Dang Kouv now holds 12 classrooms with nine tutors and 25 students. The course subjects are Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology for grades 9 to 12. The startup also includes language classes in Chinese and English.
Sivhuor Huot, one of the co-founders, described some obstacles the team has faced along the way. After officially launching the startup for about four months, gaining the trust of customers is difficult.
The 18-year-old explained, "We are still new. The difficulty is gaining trust from our customers that our service works well and is reliable. It is also difficult to reach more people but for now, we are working on doing outreach to students and tutors".
Dang Kouv continues to conduct an outreach program by hosting an online workshop every Sunday from 7pm to 8pm. To reach more audiences, tutors in Dang Kouv share their personal experiences relating to their university majors, how they study, and tips for doing exercises when they were in high school.
Sivhuor said the plan is to launch an official mobile app for all users to better navigate the service across the country while aiming to reach 200 tutors and 500 students for Dang Kouv.
"Shifting to online learning, we have information adding to our self-development. We can strengthen our ability," Chouly encouraged students.
Velocity Arcademy: encouraging teachers to continually improve their experience
Sovann Pichpisey, co-founder and CEO of Velocity Arcademy, graduated with a Bachelor's in English from the Institute of Foreign Languages. She wants to help teachers improve their teaching skills and make use of new strategies in both online and physical contexts to teach in the classroom. She encourages educators to find new teaching methods and be motivated to teach students while making teaching their profession.
Pursuing a degree in English teaching, Pichpisey addressed an issue and found a solution to the problem. She realized there are many methods of teaching the English language but not many in teaching high school subjects such as Mathematics, Geography, and science. Therefore, she initiated an edtech startup.
Velocity Arcademy helps schools and education providers become autonomous by equipping teachers with the skills and competencies needed to keep them up to date with digital and pedagogical skills.
The online platform is designed to display upskill practices, allowing education providers to register their names and access to the skill.
At the same time as COVID-19 emerged, she encouraged teachers that online and physical teaching are not different from each other.
"So, we take this opportunity to encourage them to adopt new skills that help them choose and achieve a new tactic or method to teach in the classroom, not only in online classes but also physical classes," said the 23-year-old.
Pichpisey is also currently a researcher in education while specializing in E-learning in the online context. Through her research, she noticed there are many new methods for Cambodian teachers to figure out.
"After I conducted research with the Institute of Foreign Languages, I think I should use my findings to help all teachers gain knowledge or a new tactic in teaching," said the young researcher.
In July, 2021, Velocity Arcademy officially launched and welcomed 50 teachers from various provinces across Cambodia to transform themselves into digital educators for the two-week program.
Pichpisey observes through the lens of bare eyes that the education sector in Cambodia includes many stakeholders, improving the industry by building schools and supporting students. However, she believes one of the important actors is education providers.
"We are trying to provide more support for teachers because even though we have advanced technology, we still need teachers to help pave the way for students,” she added. "So, what we can do in this sector is for teachers to figure out the context by staying up-to-date to improve themselves".
She explained funding is the main problem in initiating the startup. However, she believes that other new innovative startups face the same issue. Another is the short time available for teachers who join the program because they must support their families.
"Teachers always have little time for their skill improvement. So, we can imagine that for their living, they teach many hours in a day. Generally, eight hours".
The Velocity Arcademy is seeking recognition for its upskilling practices to standardize the program while hoping to cement partnerships with more stakeholders in the sector.
"We can find any method that helps teachers, specifically solving the time availability of teachers by preparing and practicing skill flexibly. Also, working with other organizations or stakeholders in the education sector."