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Room to grow in tech sphere

Marking the end of a two-year partnership between Open Institute and USAID established to foster development through technology, participants at a presentation yesterday noted the program’s successes while acknowledging that Cambodia still has a long way to go in order to thrive in the digital world.

“We are working on adapting students to the new age of technology,” said Javier Sola, chief of institute for Open Institute, which has helped to develop more than 30 software programs since 2012. “We want to create thinking skills, not just technology skills.”

One of these programs is a partnership with the Ministry of Education to develop the first Khmer-language grade 12 textbook for computer science coursework. Though Sola said he believed the text would put Cambodia on the same level as countries like Spain and France, who are able to teach their students without translation barriers, others said that the Kingdom lags in the field for reasons beyond a lack of textbooks.

“We are late in this area,” said Yuok Ngoy, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Education. “Investing in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] costs a lot more money than social science . . . and the private sectors are less invested.”

“We need time,” he added.

Other technological innovations have also showed promise, while presenting their own challenges, those involved said.

With at least 90 per cent of all Cambodians having phone access, one focal point of Open Institute programs has revolved around creating Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. IVR allows pre-recorded voice messages to be disseminated easily to registered users.

The software has been used to inform voters about elections and to teach new mothers proper post-natal care. IVR has even been used to help Cambodian teachers learn English.

Sara Piezzano, chief of party for Winrock International Cambodia, said the technology is a crucial way to reach people in Cambodia, but it still has gaps.

“It is hard to get people to trust it,” she said, especially in communities vulnerable to human trafficking. “They say, ‘the reality is different’ [from the voice message]. So you need [real] people in the middle to communicate.”

USAID mission director Rebecca Black agreed that technology still requires the support of humans on the ground.

“There is only so far that technology can go to make something work,” she said.

Black said that while technology adaptation “is growing drastically”, it is important to test innovations.

“It is one thing to be empowered with technology, but you have to make sure it really works.”

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