As part of Kids City’s vision of the future, the organisation last Saturday launched Cambodia’s first interschool STEM competition—an educational programme aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) across the country by inviting private and public schools to participate in the challenge—as well as promoting science workshops for schools.
Speaking at the launch of the programs at the Kids City building located on Sihanouk Boulevard CEO Meng Hieng said that STEM education is closely linked to global competitiveness, and is especially important for Cambodia’s youth.
“As Cambodia develops, it will become increasingly important that it has a wealth of science and technology graduates. Even those who do not wish to study science formally can benefit from enhanced problem solving and critical thinking skills,” he said.
“Science has always been at the heart of what we wish to achieve here at Kids City,” he added. “It is important for us to have a positive impact on Cambodian education and society in general. It is vital for everyone to understand science, but to still have fun at the same time.”
Dr. Bryony Mathew, deputy head of mission for the British embassy, said at the launch that although STEM fields affect almost every component of everyday life, from medicine, computers, phones and cars, the fundamental problem with STEM education is that many students believe the subjects are too difficult or won’t lead to well paying jobs.
“I want to challenge that perception,” she said.
“Cambodia needs more STEM professionals. More engineers, more electricians, more statisticians, more doctors, more architects, and more research scientists,” she said.
Highlighting figures from the World Bank that show in 2014 less than six per cent of Cambodian university students were pursuing degrees in science or engineering, while 46 per cent were studying accounting, finance or management, she said almost half of Cambodia’s 220,000 university students currently enrolled in business-related fields will have trouble finding employment once they graduate.
“The Cambodian government is already aware of this problem, and last month the ministry of education, youth and sport stopped providing licenses for new business courses at universities, in an attempt to reduce the oversupply of business students,” she said.
She said that while Cambodia’s economic development currently depends heavily on the traditional sectors of garment manufacturing and tourism, the government is aware that it needs to diversify into new sectors.
“And to achieve this, Cambodia needs to get youth interested in STEM subjects, to get them to see the opportunities that these subjects can offer,” she said, adding that STEM related careers are some of the fastest growing and best paid jobs available.
Hieng encouraged schools and other education establishments to incorporate the Kids City Science programme into their school curriculum, as well as promoting STEM.
He said that the Kids City staff, while also working with NGOs and government schools to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access the services, is developing a large range of workshops and subject specific activities.
The STEM competition is completely free to participate in, and available in Khmer and English.
Laura Boon, Head of Science at Kids City, said that by launching Cambodia’s first STEM competition, the program will hopefully encourage more children to become interested in science.
She explained the competitions structure: teams of five children under the age of 12 from different schools will compete against each other on challenge days. The challenges will test the students’ ability to work in a team, think critically, solve puzzles and apply scientific knowledge.
“Children entering the competition will benefit from challenging themselves, developing their critical thinking and teamwork skills. They will also get to meet children from different backgrounds,” she said.