Bit by Byte, Cambodia’s Schools Growing in Computer Use

It’s a teacher’s nightmare: Try to teach an earnest and eager class a trade without any of the tools the trade requires.

Ouk Chhieng, director of the Special Professional Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, remembers those dark days when he had to teach computer science, with no computer.

“Before 1990 very few students knew what a computer looked like,” he said. At times, his methods were downright silly, the professor said.

“I drew a picture of a computer which contained a keyboard, monitor and a hard drive on the blackboard,” Ouk Chhieng re­called. “And it took me hours to explain what it could do.”

Those were frustrating times for Ouk Chhieng as he struggled to impart his enthusiasm for computers to his students. The university had just eight computers on which students could practice for only one hour per week.

“It was strange when the students came in to practice and they saw the letters appear on the screen and not come out on paper like a typewriter,” he said.

Only three out of the 120 students that graduated in 1990 from the university attained sufficient computer skills to help them get good jobs, recalls one of Ouk Chhieng’s students from that class and now works for Mobitel.

The computer situation has changed considerably today.

“Now there is more development in computer usage,” Ouk Chhieng said. “People learn different programs. From typing, they can insert pictures onto the computer.”

Many private classes and schools have sprung up across Phnom Penh, and they all are examples of the new interest.

“People like to study this science because it is the skill re­quired by the market,” Ministry of Education Secretary of State Pok Than said.

Before computers became widely used, Cambodians looking for jobs often believed they needed only to know how to speak English. Now the market is changing to require higher skills, which some observers say is a good sign for future development.

To continue the trend upward, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently gave 350 computers to Cambo­dian schools and has trained about 100 teachers on their use. By 2015 Unesco aims to give every child in Cambodia access to a computer. They are setting up a mobile team with laptop computers to teach poor rural children about computers.

In spite of the progress Cambo­dia has seen in the technology sector since 1990—in both schooling and trades—the country still has far to go, Ouk Chhieng said. Computer lessons are still not available in many public schools.

And even though some Cam­bo­dian schools have computers, education officials admit they often go unused by the students.

“We have three computers, but we use them for administrative purposes only,” said Tuol Tum­pong High School deputy director Sing Sithon.

The computers in the schools have been donated by international organizations or private individuals. Cambodia does not have the budget to pay for computer science classes, Sing Sithon said.

“About 0.02 percent of Cam­bodians use the Internet, while in Singapore that number rises to 3 percent,” said Supote Prasertsri, head of education for Unesco in Cambodia.


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