Smartphones and tablets may find a place in the Cambodian classroom, as the launch of a new pilot program by two NGOs aims to tackle illiteracy with e-learning in schools.
In October, World Education and Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE), two partner NGOs dedicated to improving access to education, launched a program for 2,000 children in Kampong Cham to improve literacy rates through the use of new technology.
A total of 30 per cent of children from grades one through three are still unable to read or write, according to recent Ministry of Education statistics, which prompted World Education and KAPE to devise their Total Reading Approach for Children (TRAC) program to supplement the ordinary reading curriculum.
“We’re now in the 21st century and technology is very important. The use of smartphones will be a huge development in Cambodia and help enhance the [existing] reading curriculum,” said Ul Run, project manager of TRAC.
Organisers hope the program, which is still in its pilot stage, will reach 100 million children by the end of its two-year introductory phase.
Children are given tablets and smartphones to play TRAC’s learning games – including word puzzles, matching games and flashcards. Many opt to take the devices home to continue playing, and continue the learning process, according to Run.
“We want to create a total learning environment, and we want to see parent engagement,” said Run, who admitted that there was a deep-rooted mindset within the community that education was best left for teachers.
“Parents need to understand education and provide support for the children,” he added.
He admitted to problems with the approach. For instance, only about 10 per cent of the population in Kampong Cham has smartphones, and TRAC needs technical support from an organisation called ilearn4fun based in the US to further develop the e-learning software.
However, the response from students has been positive and the program overseers remain hopeful. Men Rumdourl, field co-ordinator at KAPE, recalled the overwhelming response she received from the children in the TRAC program, and how one girl persuaded a whole class of students from another school to turn up at her school to take part.
“One girl from a poor family got so interested in the mobile phone that she told other kids in her area about TRAC and they all wanted to come to this school,” she said. “Children now have a lot of chances to learn – not just in class, but in the library and at home.”
At the end of the pilot, the NGOs will present the results of the project to the Ministry of Education.
The ministry has, according to Ul Run, expressed an interest in the approach.
If successful, the NGOs plan to extend the reach of TRAC to other provinces in Cambodia and ultimately become a model for other developing countries.
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