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Ministry plans to drag schools into digital era

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is plunging public schools into the digital age with a new interactive technology plan fit with bells, whistles and 3G applications, light-years ahead of its mostly dirt-floor school houses.

The five-year, $1.3 million project, developed and funded by Cellcard, will see Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Resource Centres installed in 334 secondary schools.

The centres will each have broadband internet access and three computers equipped with mobile-phone-compatible digital portals that include digitised and searchable copies of the curriculum, hundreds of tutoring videos, an interactive student forum, weekly updated entertainment and Candy Crush-style educational games.

“It’s absolutely massive; nobody’s ever done anything like this in Cambodia before, and I’ve travelled around the world, but never seen any educational software or content at this level,” Cellcard CEO Ian Watson said.

Although Cambodia has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world, 3G and internet subscriptions are booming, and both the ministry and Cellcard say they want to seek out those comprising the fastest-growing market: teenagers.

There were 3.8 million Cambodian web users in March, up from just 178,142 in 2010, according to the government, and 3.5 million people had 3G access last year.

“Most of these kids are constantly on their phones playing games and watching YouTube videos, so we thought: why not leverage their behaviour and use it as an educational opportunity to teach them through games,” Palani Periakaruppan, Cellcard’s director of marketing, said.

But so far, the ICT centres are planned for just 3 per cent of schools, and though the interactive digital portal will be accessible through a free app, it will require a Cellcard subscription.

“Even without considering technology, there are many discrepancies in quality between the urban and remote schools,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said. “But we still need to provide all the means we can for our students to succeed, including, wherever possible, growing our IT capabilities and crossing the digital divide.”

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