To spur innovation and creativity among Cambodian students, integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) into education is key as Cambodia embraces the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Piloted since 2014, Cambodia’s New Generation Schools (NGS) has gained a reputation for pushing STEM in the Kingdom. NGS is a collaboration between the Education Ministry and Kampuchea Action to Promote Education (KAPE) and aims to modernize the Cambodian education system.
With just a dozen of STEM-integrated NGSs in the country, “access to a Cambodian STEM education is still limited as the number of STEM schools is still in short supply,” according to researcher Ban Chanphalla. He wrote 2020 working paper, ‘The Current State of Cambodia’s STEM Education: A Case Study of the Preah Sisowath New Generation School’.
However, in the capital city of Phnom Penh, there are a growing number of initiatives by individuals, educators and tech savvies to boost the STEM movement. These key driving forces push boundaries and make the modern curriculum more widely accessible. As Cambodia is still in its early stage in STEM education, cultivating interest, enhancing literacy, promoting, and improving human resources involves diverse groups.
Suy Channe, of InSTEDD innovation lab Southeast Asia, leads STEM learning by training trainers in the field. Her team also mobilize software developers and volunteers to help localizing Code.org, one of the world’s largest online resources for students to learn coding through its free coding lessons. As a result, her Cambodian team can design a localised STEM curriculum based on Code.org for students from grade 7 to 11 at four NGS schools. Code.org’s Hour of Code is an annual reminder of the importance of learning how to code in a country like Cambodia.
Sisters of Code is Cambodia’s first coding club for females. Its mission is to grow confidence among female students and share the joy of learning coding skills. Founded by Natalja Rodionova, Managing Director of IT Academy STEP Cambodia, Sisters of Code club wants to reach as many female students as possible. To achieve this, the 100 members plus club has expanded its scope to target schools in provinces.
In 2019, Raintree Cambodia partnered with SaturdayKids, Singapore’s first coding school for kids, to provide free creative coding courses for 100 Cambodian students. The Coding Cats program introduced kids to a block-based visual programming language called Scratch, which is developed by MIT Media Lab and has been translated into more than 70 languages.
Phnom Penh/Silicon Valley coding school SabaiCode is taking on a more entrepreneurial approach. Founded by two coders with decades of experiences, SabaiCode’s coaches help young adults learn coding and robot programming. The company works with big businesses, such as mobile network provider Cellcard, to run a one-year Full Stack Developer Bootcamp for highly-talented students.
In November 2016, the British Embassy in Phnom Penh released its first Little Scientists. The Khmer and English magazine aims to educate and entertain kids about STEM fields.
A year earlier, at a launch of the STEM Ambassadors program, British Ambassador Bill Longhurst stated that, “STEM fields are vital for the future of Cambodia, whether as a way for Cambodia to raise its productivity, or more importantly to climb up the global value chain thereby increasing the wage and the living standards of its people.” The joint program with IDP Cambodia is a network of STEM Ambassadors to mentor young Cambodians and inspire them to consider a career in STEM.
On that same occasion, Cambodia’s Education Minister HE Dr Hang Chuon Naron called for students to take a strong interest in these fields, and for parents and teachers to support them.
The Education Minister emphasized that,
“STEM create, explain, build, and innovate in the world around us. Cambodia needs more young people skilled and qualified in these subjects to develop our human resources, the economy, and drive our nation’s development. Our nation needs STEM graduates to become more competitive in the region and the world.”
These initiatives have one thing in common. To form foundational STEM fields for young learners in the country.
At Preah Yukunthor High School, located on the corner of Sihanouk and Preah Monivong boulevards, Block F is dedicated to E2STEM, a STEM school founded by Former Minister of State for Education, Singapore, Dr Seet Ai Mee.
Recently, Kiripost conducted an email interview with teacher Lim Tou Boon (currently in Malaysia), a Programme Director at E2STEM Education, Cambodia. He moved to Phnom Penh in 2015 to pursue his mission of equipping young leaders to transform communities.
Prior to his move, he was President of Taylor’s College, Malaysia (2009-2015). He was a key driver in the institution’s vision of producing high-achieving graduates to become productive global citizens. During his tenure, 1,000 students gained admission into the top 200 universities of the world each year.
He’s an advocate of disruptive innovation. Committed to the unleashing of young talents through an inquiry-based learning approach at E2STEM Education, he hopes to see more competent Cambodian STEM professionals with 21st century skills.
As E2STEM will wrap up its program in December 2023, I asked teacher Lim about the STEM school he runs and why STEM learning is crucial for Cambodia’s next generation innovators.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
What’s E2STEM and your personal hope to achieve at E2STEM?
E2STEM is a public high school project supported and funded by the Ministry of Education, Youth & Sports (MoEYS). E2STEM stands for English, E-learning, Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. E2STEM was established as a pilot programme to produce young STEM professionals in Cambodia who are Industry 4.0-ready.
The public-private partnership between the MoEYs and E2STEM Education, an international NGO based in Singapore, was formalized on 9 March, 2017 and E2STEM Education commenced with its first intake of Grade 10 students on 1 October, 2018.
What got you into starting E2STEM in Cambodia?
E2STEM was started by Dr Seet Ai Mee, former Minister of State for Education, Singapore. Dr. Seet is the “one woman” with a compelling vision – to make a lasting impact on the Cambodian people by providing the best STEM education to students. Cambodia needs young talents in STEM with competencies in 21st century skills in its journey towards becoming an upper-middle income nation by 2030.
E2STEM is committed to support the MoEYS in this journey. In 2016, I was introduced to Dr Seet and she invited me to join her in the making of the E2STEM story.
Tell me about what you do at E2STEM. Your 3 favorite things? And your 3 challenges?
My job at E2STEM is to support our heads of departments and teachers, so that they can enable our E2STEM students to achieve the 3Cs, which are the graduate outcomes of E2STEM:
- Content mastery
- Character mastery
- Competency mastery
We work on the 4 Es (environment, education, experience and exposure) that students need in order to be equipped with 21st century skills.
My 3 favourite aspects of working at E2STEM:
- A great team of young Cambodians who share our vision of transforming education in Cambodia.
- A wonderful team of young Cambodian students who are willing to embrace 21st century methodologies in teaching and learning.
- Wonderful support from parents/guardians who had entrusted their children’s future to us.
My 3 most challenging aspects of working at E2STEM
- Developing and maintaining a culture of work excellence amongst students.
- Shifting mindsets from fixed to growth mindset.
- Getting stakeholders to embrace the value of significance - contributing to the success of others.
What are the benefits of STEM for Cambodia? And why do you think it's essential for young people in Cambodia?
To address your question on the benefits of STEM for Cambodia, I have listed several articles [below] about the importance and urgency of ensuring that our Cambodian students are at the forefront of the amazing opportunities before them.
50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases, according to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report.
Critical thinking and problem-solving top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five years.
Newly emerging this year are skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.
Respondents to the Future of Jobs Survey estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less.
Half of us will need to reskill in the next five years, as the "double-disruption" of the economic impacts of the pandemic and increasing automation transforming jobs takes hold.
Our E2STEM students have proven that they are just as capable as any other student in more developed countries, as long as they are given the opportunities, resources and the support to take on new learning challenges.
E2STEM students successfully built and launched its CubeSat (a nanosatellite) in September 2021.
It is definitely essential that young Cambodians are given the opportunities to pursue a STEM education as it will reduce Cambodia’s reliance on foreign talents in the Industry 4.0 playing field.
Cambodia can be a leader in the adoption and innovation of Industry 4.0 technologies if we focus on the basic building blocks - content mastery, character mastery and competency mastery.
The above are examples of the skills that are needed in the future. Education must go beyond the textbooks and allow students to develop the above skills through intentional programmes in problem solving, self-management, inter-personal skills and technology use and development.
Based on your observations, what are the strengths and weaknesses among Cambodian students, and how can they improve?
Cambodian students are young and energetic, and keen to embrace new learning and innovations. In a learning environment that promotes inquiry, Cambodian students do thrive and succeed.
We have seen such transformations at E2STEM, where students, whether from Phnom Penh or from the provinces, are willing to embrace new ideas and approaches in problem solving. In undergoing the learning journey, their mindset and learning culture is re-shaped to one where they become more independent and interdependent learners.
Weaknesses (or opportunities for improvement) that can be worked on - shifting students from being dependent learners (depending on teachers and model answers in order to learn something) to becoming independent and interdependent learners (collaborative peer to peer learning).
Improvement starts with the willingness to learn and to change. The E2STEM motto is ‘Learn, Change, Lead’. The purpose of learning is to change - to change ourselves first, before we can change others. Then we lead the change.
What are the essences to contribute or benefit Cambodia’s national STEM ecosystem?
The 4 Es that we adopt at E2STEM can benefit Cambodia’s national STEM ecosystem.
Environment: Design a learning environment that enables 21st century skills to be developed. For example, at E2STEM, all classrooms and halls are supported by wi-fi and all students have access to learning devices and online learning resources.
Education: The curriculum that E2STEM designed is focused on Content Knowledge (we use the MoEYS Cambodia syllabus and books), Character Development (we use the Character First programme) and Competency Mastery (we focus on projects, collaborative learning, project-based learning etc to develop such skills).
Experience: It is important to learn by doing, not merely by reading the textbooks. In doing, we allow for failures. Failure is one of the best ways of learning.
Exposure: To help our students think out of the box, we must be intentional in taking them out of the box. Participating in international competitions and projects accelerate this process.