NGO Aims to Supplement Schooling With Game

About 18 months ago, a Krou­sar Thmey staff member asked a Cambodian 12th-grade student when Angkor Wat had been built. The question was met with silence.

Was it before or after World War II? he asked the student. This time, there was no hesitation—definitely after, the student said, off by eight centuries.

This incident prompted the NGO to develop an educational game called “Neakna Deung” or “Who Knows.”

Using a colorful square board, players answer questions and move game pieces around the circuit to win. It’s a learning tool in disguise, Prum Thary, general director of Krousar Thmey, said.

For the last decade, the NGO, whose name means New Family, has been helping Cambodian children. Through its centers in the Phnom Penh area, Poipet, Sisophon, Siem Reap, Battam­bang and Sihanoukville, it provides educational and social support to children up to about 14 years old. Currently, Krousar Thmey cares for approximately 700 children at its shelters and for more than 2,000 live-out children who use its services, said Cheam Kosal, assistant general director.

“From the experience with our children—we always test their knowledge—we found out that there was a big gap between what they learn at school and the reality [of what they actually have learned],” Prum Thary said.

During the NGO Family Fes­tival a year ago, Krousar Thmey held an educational question-and-answer contest. “It was very good; the children were very motivated,” Prum Thary said.

Taking the idea a step further, the staff came up with the idea of a Khmer board game that would make learning fun. It took one year to prepare 2,000 questions with the help of teachers, and to type them on index-type cards, with five questions on one side of a card and answers at the back, said Cheam Kosal.

Five persons or teams can play at one time. On the board, there’s an aerial photo of Angkor Wat, white on sky blue, with bands of colored rectangles forming a pentagon along which players move their pieces.

Colors of the rectangles correspond to topics on the question-and-answer cards—pink for history; orange for geography; blue for social behavior, and citizens’ rights and responsibilities; green for sciences; and yellow for health and biology. Five questions, one for each subject, appear on each card.

After throwing the dice, a player moves his piece to a rectangle along a band. Another player picks a card and asks him the question that matches the color of that rectangle.

Questions cover both Cambodian and international matters—how long is the Mekong River, what is the tallest mountain in the world, what year did the First World War start, when did Cambodia’s leaders sign the Paris Peace Accords, and, yes, when was Angkor Wat built.

Since the question is asked out loud, “everybody learns,” Prum Thary said. If the player gives the correct answer, he throws the dice again; otherwise, the next player takes over.

The game was created for students about 12 years old up to adulthood and the questions have not been translated into French or English, said Florent Combeaux, in charge of logistic for Krousar Thmey. “They were designed in accordance with the Cambodian context, history and culture,” he said.

A first lot of 1,000 boxed sets were produced earlier this year at the cost of $10 per unit, using NGOs’ local talent, said Combeaux.

Some sets were donated to people in rural areas and to organizations that could not afford purchasing it; others were sold for $5, and others at cost. “We try to sell [at cost] as much as we can to cover our costs,” said Combeaux. The NGO does not plan to factor in a profit margin, he said. “The idea is to spread [the game] to enrich the children.”

Krousar Thmey has taken the game for review to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports that is now circulating it among its staff countrywide, said Combeaux. The NGO also is planning to hold contests through publications to give the game as prizes, said Prum Thary.

As proof of the game’s broad appeal, the Faculty of Medicine has set up a time period for students to play Neakna Deung, Combeaux said.

As they get into the game, students lose their reticence to admit ignorance when they don’t know the answer—they just ask and move on, Combeaux said. And that is Krousar Thmey’s goal, to make them want to learn, he said.

For more information on the game, please call Krousar Thmey’s office at 023-366 184 or 023-880 503.


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