Among 10 other students in a classroom, Samlot Rina and Rith Sokhaneath smile as their two-wheeled toy car runs smoothly via remote control, after they spent 30 minutes installing small parts under their teacher’s instruction.
“It is brilliant, scientific and strange. It is just small parts with microelectronics that we installed together and we can navigate via a phone app,” Rina says, navigating the palm-sized car on the table.
Robotics is one of the new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects that is set to go into next year’s curriculum at Preah Norodom Primary School in Phnom Penh.
“We have been approved by the Ministry of Education to test the new subject of RoboThink at Preah Norodom Primary School in 2019-2020 for a one-year trial. We start with four classrooms from grade one to four with approximately 200 students,” says Kuy Pan Chhey, CEO and Founder of the Riellionaire Group, which is introducing RoboThink to Cambodian schools.
“The reason we bought this programme from the US is because it fits in with the policy and vision of the Cambodian government and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in developing Stem education in primary and secondary schools."
“So this programme will help improve and comply with Industry 4.0, something the world and Cambodia are paying more attention to in order to develop,” Pan Chhey tells The Post.
Industry 4.0 refers to the ongoing technology and automation revolution transforming economies around the world.
“RoboThink uses materials and technology in Industry 4.0. In fact, we have lessons for robot construction, such as robots that are moved automatically, navigated by sensors, music and light. We also have coding programme for kids and young adults,” Pan Chhey says.
Pan Chhey graduated from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia in 2011 before working in marketing for private companies, as well as honing his entrepreneurial skills.
With five years’ experience importing branded products from overseas for private companies, he decided to launch his own company to import and export products.
“I worked a lot in different industries, including importing brand products. I thought that Cambodia, especially the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, are pushing Stem programmes."
“I saw this demand and I wanted to help the ministry reach their policy of bringing Stem to primary and secondary schools,” he says.
Operating in 10 countries at more than 30 academic institutes around the world, Cambodia is the second country in Southeast Asia after Malaysia, and the fifth country in the Asia-Pacific, in which RoboThink’s programme has been introduced. The programme works with children from six to 14 years of age.
“RoboThink is an academic Stem programme that has great benefits for children in this technological era, the digital age,” says Anna Sosanna Paulina van Zyl, General Manager of RoboThink Urban Space learning centre in Tuol Kork district.
“It also helps them to be prepared to study engineering and not have to wait until university. It helps them succeed in life, that is how children of the future can be better engineers and better programmers that can help us in the world.”
The programme attempts to make the Stem learning experience fun for participants and not just a computer screen focused activity.
“They get to use their hands and they have a passion for what they build, they are proud of what they build. It also helps them on communication skills and teamwork, and it helps them to develop an imagination and gives them a passion for what they do. I think it is a wonderful programme for young children,” van Zyl says.
Sitting with one hand supporting his chin, Ry Chhiheng, a student in grade three at the Western International School in Phnom Penh, is studying basic skills, like how to build a Lego plane.
“It took me five minutes to build this plane with help from the teacher,” the 10-year-old boy says.
Because robotics is a new subject being trialled in the state curriculum, all students, regardless of their age, have to start at the same basic level.
“We divide students into age groups, but all classrooms have to start at the beginning at the same time,” says Pan Chhey.
“We have all the materials, tools and specific education programmes with professional teachers who are trained in the US. For a six-year-old, it can help develop their brain and teach them to love technology, engineering and science.”
In state schools, RoboThink plans to teach children over an eight-year period. Their privately taught curriculum is taught over 156 weeks, or three-and-a-half years, and is priced at $150 per trimester.
RoboThink Cambodia plans to spread to all 25 cities and provinces over the next two years in order to boost Stem nationwide.
“Our country can move faster with a growth in human resources, especially in technology, engineering and science,” says Pan Chhey.
“We also have a regional competition in Cambodia. We will choose the best candidates and they will join international competitions across the world. Next year, we will go to an international championship in South Korea,” van Zyl says.