Having built applications aiming to improve the environment, streamline waste management and promote STEM education – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – three teams of girls were crowned National Pitch Champions of Technovation Cambodia 2022 on June 18, with education minister Hang Chuon Naron making a virtual appearance.

This year, the largest social entrepreneurship programme for girls aged 8 to 18 was organised by the Tech for Kids Academy in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

The main sponsorship came from Khmer Enterprise under the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia’s (UYFC) Technology and Innovative Youth.

At the online National Pitch of Technovation Cambodia 2022 on Saturday, Chuon Naron said: “While Cambodia works to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, these teams of girls have proved their strong spirit, willingness and responsibility in promoting the tech capacity of young women in Cambodia.”

The12-week programme provided STEM education app building and AI technology to promote tech and entrepreneurship to young girls to increase their participation in the sciences and information and communications technology.

In Cambodia this year, 357 girls registered in the programme, with supervision from 75 volunteer trainers. They formed 38 teams, with 11 selected for the National Pitch semi-final. Their apps tackling social issues were presented before a committee of tech and entrepreneur specialists on June 18.

“Girls E4STEM” were the champions in the Senior Division, “Furious Five” in the Junior Division and “The Green Girl” in the Beginners Division.

The four-member Girls E4STEM team is made up Kao Menghorng, Mab Piseychantha, Sokha Seriroth and Somang Sochannimol from the Hun Sen Peam Chikang High School in Kampong Cham province.

Together they developed their E-STEM app after observing in the UNESCO “Cracking the Code” report that only a small proportion – around 35 per cent – of STEM students in higher education globally are women.

“It’s not only in Cambodia. People around the world are facing this problem.

“If we don’t solve the gender gap in STEM education, we will face a lack of human resources in engineering and technology in the future,” the Girls E4STEM team said.

They presented their E-STEM app as a route to providing lessons in science, technology, computer coding, maths and English for tech.

“The application also aims to provide the 4Cs skills of 21th century education – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking – to achieve [UN Sustainable Development Goal 4], promote entrepreneurship and innovation among students, and develop the education field in Cambodia,” Girls E4STEM said.

They plan to wrap up building the E-STEM app in the first year and launch it in the Google Play Store in the second, before the iOS version is ready in the third. A 3D lab, virtual reality and robotics, as well as further research and development, are planned for the fourth year.

The Junior Champion, the three-member “Furious Five” team from Battambang province noticed that a waste problem that spoiled the appearance of their town was the result of an inefficient waste collection system, with a lack of information on the collection routes and the garbage truck schedule.

Chornai, Soriya and Mey Mey created “Cozy Earth” to “give citizens the chance to report problems, track down any areas that have trash, contact community leaders, volunteer to help clear trash and donate.”

While their target users at the moment are primarily people in Battambang, they hope to expand the scope of the app to reach everyone nationwide.

The Champion of the Beginners Division, Vannroth Sopheakneath – aka “The Green Girl” – also tackled a waste problem, one she encountered when deciding which sorting bins her trash should belong to.

“Even with the government’s initiative to put waste sorting trash bins in cities like Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, people’s knowledge and practices are still limited in terms of what to do with the different types of waste and how to sort them properly,” Sopheakneath said.

She did a survey among 20 of her student peers aged between 12 and 13 years of age, and found that only three knew how to properly sort the trash.

“The Green Girl” said she is concerned that if the waste sorting attempts fail, the eight-step plastic recycling initiative would be in vain.

“Unsorted garbage is a true obstacle to recycling. If we cannot recycle waste properly, it will be a massive burden on the Earth, with a huge environmental impact.

“If we continue burning trash, which is against the law, it will speed up global warming, threatening the life of humans, animals and plants on the planet,” Sopheakneath said.

She developed by herself the Green Camera Hero (GCH) with AI to help users classify their trash by just taking a picture.

After trialling the app and updating the version with improved IA, Sopheakneath hopes that “I can work with the public and private sectors, schools, NGOs and municipal authorities to promote the advantages of the Green Camera Hero”.

Heang Omuoy, regional adviser of Technovation Cambodia, said all the girls who took part were winners.

“After four months including training and developing app, everyone can see the fruitful results of their hard work, becoming stronger and better versions of themselves.

“With their attitude and commitment improving after such tireless efforts, and having worked harder than ever before, please keep this momentum and continue in the future,” Omuoy said.

Learning to identify a community problem, develop an app through coding and then implement it with the practical business development skills from Technovation can help build confidence and courage in young women, said Minister of Education Chuon Naron.

They will likely pursue their studies in tech and become much in demand human resources in the digital domain and Industry 4.0, he added.

Chuon Naron said he was proud that teams of Cambodian girls were heading to the 2022 World Summit of Technovation, an organisation with 140,000 students supported by 19,000 volunteer mentors around the world.

“Four of the 28 Cambodian girls teams made it past the Technovation global semi-final. Their presence in the final of such an international competition reflects their comparable capabilities in technology and entrepreneurship to those of girls from countries.

“With the support from trainers, I strongly believe that Cambodian girls will continue to bring victory and national pride to their country,” he said.