While mentions of robots, nuclear reactors and artificial intelligence appeared in presentations during a technology conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday, speakers agreed that the Kingdom has been slow to adopt these technologies due to a lack of education.
The 2018 Cambodia Outlook Conference, which was jointly hosted by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) and ANZ Royal Bank, opened with remarks from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who admitted that Cambodia has been lagging behind its regional partners and reasserted his commitment to increasing investment in the tech sector.
According to the premier, Cambodia allocated just 0.12 percent of its GDP to science and technology research in 2015, compared to the 0.63 percent and 1.3 percent of GDP invested by Thailand and Malaysia, respectively.
He went on to promise Cambodia would increase its level to 0.2 percent by 2020, and accelerate investment to reach 1 percent by 2025 and 1.5 percent by 2030.
Following the prime minister’s remarks, discussions between technology experts from Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore--some of the most technologically advanced nations in the region-- focused on a singular theme: Cambodia’s need for a better education system.
According to Sok Siphana, the outgoing Chairman of the CDRI board of directors, government policy is already struggling to keep up with recent advancements in tech due to a lack of education among legislators.
“We talked about creating an e-commerce law in the early 2000s, and now it is 2018 and there is no e-commerce law,” he said, adding that some government officials didn’t understand the law. “You’re basically talking about… contract law in cyberspace.”
CDRI executive director Dr. Chhem Rethy said choosing where to allocate funding to most effectively improve education is difficult.
“Resources are short everywhere, all we can do is improve education when and where it is possible--there’s no magical number the government should allot to education,” he said. “I think it is important that the private sector begin investing in the education system, too, but they need incentive to do that.”
He added that by creating more vocational schools, Cambodia could provide the private sector with more skilled workers, attracting investment from private entities who want to recruit graduates.
“The growth of the economy is intertwined with the growth of science and technology,” said Desmond Tay, CEO of Singapore-based tech company vCargo Cloud. “Development in this sector is often funded by private companies, but needs to be a collaborative effort with researchers and government officials.”
Additional reporting by Hor Kimsay
Updated: 6:38pm, Thursday 15 March 2018