The Covid-19 virus has been running rampant around the world since the beginning of 2020. It has thrown up many challenges on both a national level and on a global scale. As with other nations, Cambodia has had to face these challenges and create the ‘new normal’ way of life the virus has imposed.
The education sector has been one of the most impacted industries in the Kingdom. Acting swiftly upon the first reported cases of the virus in the country, schools, universities, and all other educational institutes were closed by the Royal Government of Cambodia in March of this year
What then was to be the fate of the millions of students, from kindergarten through to high school and beyond, whose on-site education was indefinitely suspended?
Through close working between the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS), the Ministry of Health (MoH), and the Government, plans were immediately put into place to give all students access to education in order to continue their studies.
The implementation was not a simple process, and it required a range of mediums to be made available so that students could continue with their studies. A range of accessible options were designed to allow students to study regardless of their background, location, or access to technology.
Many of the top international schools in the country moved to fully-online learning models right away. This allowed their students to receive the same level of education that they were used to; albeit with the interface moving to a mix of Google Classroom, Zoom, Class Dojo, and various other online e-learning platforms.
This new approach to studying was especially popular with high school students, some of whom now prefer this modern method of learning than the previous in-class setting. International schools will continue with both online learning and physical classes once schools reopen in the country. This will give students the option to choose a learning method which suits them the best, and allows them to get the most out of their education.
This area of the education sector was to be a more challenging task so as to make sure all students could maintain their education during this period of upheaval. The MoEYS understood the need to reach all areas of the country, and so chose to provide education through a range of platforms.
Students were given the option of studying online - Facebook Live videos from highly qualified Cambodian teachers were recorded and shared on the official Facebook page, and lessons were also recorded and shown on dedicated TV channels which were available for all students in every province. Especially for those without the latest electronic devices, or access to suitable internet connections, the TV channel provided a much-needed gateway for students to continue with their Khmer K-12 education.
For students studying in Grade 9 and Grade 12, additional content was provided to bolster the education for these all-important grades and respective end of year examinations. Students in these grades are also able to return to in-class learning from September 2020, so that they can properly prepare for their final tests.
Learning English is one of the most important things for Cambodian students of all ages. From 3-year-old kids starting out in kindergarten to adults seeking to improve their job prospects, many locals and expats alike study English in addition to their other studies or work commitments.
The virus caused the closure of all educational providers in the country, and the TESOL sector was also affected and required to move with the times in order to continue providing their services to their students.
Both language institutes and tutoring services moved to an online model with most choosing to use Zoom or Skype as the software to enable face-to-face online classes with teachers and students. For students who preferred the benefit of private tutors, they could now more easily have class with their teachers. Gone was the need to arrange a meeting venue and then have to take into account the traffic or those imminent storm clouds.
Both students and teachers seem to have embraced this method of English language learning. It offers convenience to both parties while at the same time allowing students to learn from, and interact with, their TEFL qualified Native English-Speaking teachers from the comfort of their own home. As with high school students in international schools, many language learners will choose to continue to maintain their studies via online platforms even when physical lessons are fully allowed to resume.
“I find it much easier to connect with my tutor for each class and to arrange a time that is helpful to me. Moreover, I really like the live video calls for our lessons as it allows us to share online content which gives me a deeper understanding of the lesson topic” – Chan Veasna, University Student
Through the actions taken by the Royal Government and various ministries, Cambodia was able to stave off the virus in comparison to many other countries. Along with school closures, the government also moved quickly to close borders with its neighbors and to suspend the approval of visas to foreign nationals wishing to enter the country. While the virus has not yet gone away, there have been only a few cases in Cambodia over the past few months. The country is looking to emerge into the final quarter of 2020 with a hopeful stance on reigniting several key industries for the nation such as tourism and the garment sector.
As for education, well, it never really went away thanks to the options implemented from the onset of the pandemic. However, many students in both international and state schools will welcome a return to the more traditional approaches to classroom teaching. Despite the accessibility of online and television-based learning content, some students simply prefer the nature of the classroom learning environment – not to mention being able to spend their free time at school with their friends and classmates.
For educators too, there is something to be said about teaching students in the classroom with the various methods of engagement and interaction that are possible. Yet, the more modern approaches of e-learning and the importance of educational institutes to provide online content to their students will be a positive outcome for both Cambodian students and other learners within the country. The move towards technology in education will only grow as online educational platforms become more and more user-friendly and accessible to support a range of educational needs.
A further benefit for students when utilizing technology in their education is that they will be able to develop their 21st Century Skills, which will be an important part of their personal development and allow them to keep pace with their international peers. With the wealth of resources on the internet at their fingertips, the use of various online media to complete assignments will foster critical thinking about their lesson topics. Alongside this, the use of digital options in the education sector will also strengthen students in regards to their technological skillset, and can also help to better prepare them for further education abroad, or for an important promotion at work.
English language learners will have the option of continuing their studies online, and those that choose to may return to their previous method of physical classes or lessons with their tutors. The leading English language tutoring providers in the country expect the demand for online classes to remain strong going into 2021 even when the government has fully reopened all schools and institutes.
Online learning, especially for language learning, has become so popular since the pandemic that it may well go on to be the preferred method for students and tutors alike. Given that international English language examinations such as IELTS and Cambridge English Exams have been adding a lot more test related content online, embracing this medium of language learning by Cambodian students and expats across the country will surely be of a benefit from now into the future.
While none of us can know exactly when this once in a lifetime global crisis will be fully over, the future of educational services in Cambodia looks bright. With the continued efforts of the Cambodian Government, MoEYS, and private education providers, the myriad of study options available up and down the country should provide students with every opportunity to continue their studies uninterrupted, and to allow for students to reach their full potential. Whether it is the high-school student attaining their Grade 12 overall score and successfully graduating, or the office worker developing their English language skills to land their dream job, Covid-19 will not be a barrier to educational achievement within Cambodia.