In 2014, computer literacy was so low in Battambang City that the majority of students were graduating grade 12 without even basic computer literacy, making them unable to navigate through an increasingly digital world.
Attempts by NGOs to establish ICT education programs are notoriously unsustainable, with graveyards of unused, broken-down computer labs as the most common long-term outcome.
In 2015, Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) partnered with Grok Learning and the Atlassian Foundation to trial a different approach; we worked together with the public high schools in Battambang City to co-design an ICT education program.
In December 2014, Prof. James Curran and Prof. Tara Murphy, co-founders of Grok Learning, traveled to Cambodia to assist CCT directors, Tara Winkler and Jedtha Pon, with defining the scope for a small pilot to establish a computer coding program. After partnerships were established with the Ministry of Education and Monivong High School, Cambodian ICT teachers were recruited and a one-week Introduction to Programming pilot covering ‘Hour of Code’ and ‘Hello World’ was launched. The pilot was a success with the majority of students passing, despite the course work being advanced and entirely in English.
The enthusiasm from the students and the strength of the partnership with the school’s faculty encouraged us to progress towards stage 2, approaching the Atlassian Foundation to join the collaboration.
In 2015, we began co-designing a curriculum, aligned with the Cambodian Master Plan for ICT education that gave students a strong command of basic computer literacy, including:
• Navigating the operating system and mouse skills
• Khmer and English typing
• Using Gmail and email etiquette
• Online safety and Facebook configuration
• Word processing, CV writing skills, images and copyright
• Excel simple formulae and graphing
• Using Google drive
We worked with Monivong School to set up energy-efficient computer labs in all the schools that were cost-effective to run. We ensured the school’s administration was online, moving them away from analog record-keeping so they could competently oversee the program.
We trained the teachers to deliver the course from the Grok Learning cloud-based platform and developed all required teaching resources. The auto-marking system meant that teachers didn’t need expertise in computing to teach the course. We trained the students and school administration to take care of the ongoing maintenance of the labs.
In 2016, we co-designed additional courses that gave students an introduction to advanced computing, including:
• Graphic design (Photoshop)
• Website design (HTML/CSS)
• Animation and Gaming
We then scaled the project into and the remaining four public schools and also partnered with the teacher training college so new teachers going into the public school workforce would already know how to deliver the curriculum.
By 2017, the schools and the teacher training college had all the knowledge required to deliver the course. Sustainability was achieved when the schools and the training college incorporated the ICT course into their budgets, resulting in no additional funding required from CCT via the Atlassian Foundation.
Three years after funding ceased, the program is still fully funded by the schools and the training college with over 20,000 students and over 500 teachers completing the course. Thousands of students continue to enroll each year. Some students have gone on to compete in international STEM competitions, become national STEM champions and have gone on to study computer science and engineering university degrees.