Betsy Devos, the current Secretary of Education of the US, recently said schools have not changed much in the last 100 years. What we teach our kids has essentially been the same for a long time although the world has evolved dramatically and rapidly.
Many parents wonder why their children are not interested or engaged in school. Not that these students are not smart enough to grasp the subjects but they simply lack interest in them. Not that the teachers are doing a terrible job but the students find the subjects rather abstract and irrelevant to their daily life. Take mathematics as an example. By middle school, kids start learning algebraic equation. Some like it and some don’t. But many don’t know why they have to learn it. They may assume it is important since it is a concept everyone is required to learn. But they can’t prove for a fact that it is important and neither can most adults. What’s being taught has been the way things are. So everyone just carries on with it. No questions asked.
However, a lack of interest could lead to serious negative consequences. If a student does not find a subject (say History) interesting, he or she will likely do poorly in that subject. In addition, they may even cheat on the exams just to get by without any intention to master the subject. Lastly, if the student does not have support from his or her parents or surrounding environment, he or she may even drop out of school. That’s the worst of all.
What if we can teach our kids subjects that are not only highly relevant to their daily life (which makes them interested), but also highly useful for their future? I believe that these three practical subjects will do just that.
Computer programming or coding
The world has greatly advanced due to new discoveries in technology – telephone, computer, or the internet. Technology has helped us get work done faster and boosted our standard of living. However, certain group of people benefit more from technology than others.
Specifically, technology creators benefit way more than the mere technology consumers. For instance, Apple Computer makes iPhones that sell for hundreds of billions of dollars per year which is good for its owners and employees. But the consumers, although they get to enjoy the phone, have to pay a steep price for it. For countries such as Cambodia that still relies heavily on agriculture, imagine how many bags of rice that a Cambodian needs to produce to exchange for one iPhone. Better be the creator than the consumer.
China is now clearly a world power that could surpass the US. Important to note that China did not rise to power by accident but by years of building up its human capital. Just about every large technology company (Apple, IBM, et cetera) has operations in China. This is because, among other factors, China can provide a large supply of talented labour force with a large variety of technology expertise and skills. According to the National Academy of Science of the USA, China produces 185,000 graduates in computer science per year compared to 65,000 in the US. To put it in perspective, the number of college graduates in Cambodia for all majors is just about 48,000 per year.
To remain a world leader, China has recently made clear of its ambition to lead in new technologies such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence. China (along with other top developed nations) began introducing computer science to primary and secondary schools several years ago.
The only way for Cambodia to move up in the labour force food chain is to upskill its people like China did, especially in the field of computer science. Per the World Economic Forum, “the future of work will see a shift in demand away from office support positions, machine operators, and other low-skill professions – and towards technology professionals such as computer engineers and information communication technology (ICT) specialists”. Wouldn’t we want to prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow?
Clearly, Cambodia needs to move away from low-paid agriculture or garment manufacturing to higher-paid electronics and software development industries. To do that we have to invest in teaching our kids early on the field of computer science.
Fortunately, there are numerous resources available for free or at low cost for such education. But every parent needs to understand its importance and ensures that their child gets the same learning opportunity as other children in top countries. Learn to become a creator rather than a consumer.
Unlike most subjects, computer programming or coding can be fun to learn if taught properly. Coding is telling computers what to do such as producing animated stories or commanding a robot. Therefore, kids have the freedom to unleash their creativity – they are allowed to create what their minds can imagine. At the same time, they learn to break down a project into small pieces and solve it step by step. Furthermore, they get to apply what they learn almost instantly – resulting in joy and sense of purpose for what they do.
Through their study of computer programming, kids will develop creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills, all of which are crucial for their future success. Not only will they pick up important skills but they will also find the subject highly relevant/useful in their daily life.
Where do our Cambodian children learn how to manage and grow money? Nowhere. At least not formally.
Most of us know how to work hard for money but don’t know how to make money work hard for us. As a result, many of us spend our lives working for money instead of the other way around. If we are to work hard in acquiring the right skills and get good income, we better know how to keep and grow that money.
Recent real estate boom in Cambodia produced many telltales. We all have heard of people who sold large plots of land they inherited from their family just to spend that money on depreciating assets such as expensive cars. With less money on hand, they had to move outside the capital resulting in lost economic opportunity – not to mention their children losing access to quality schools.
What if, from a very young age, our kids get to learn how money works. Where money or credit comes from. Different ways to grow money. Savings. Taxes. Investments. Leverage. Risks. Not only will they find it super relevant to life but also well serving for their future. The rich get richer by making money work hard for them. Our kids ought to learn how to do it too.
Cambodian issue related to health is obvious. Ironically, as the economy grows, more people appear to get sick and even at a younger age, especially in large cities such as Phnom Penh. According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, stroke and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of deaths in Cambodia, and dietary risks and high blood pressure are among the top risk factors driving the most deaths and disability. I personally have friends that are unfortunately struggling with diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or obesity. I bet others do too.
According to a research article published on MedCrave, Cambodians spend an average $600 million for medical care abroad such as in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Total spending including domestic expense would be much larger and unknown. What if these medical expenses could be cut by half? How much richer would Cambodians be?
Worse, sickness is not just about money. It negatively affects emotions and wellbeing. It reduces quality of life.
From a personal observation and in line with the report above, I attribute those above diseases to unhealthy diet and lifestyle caused by lack of education on nutrition. Take white rice as an example. Most Cambodians consume rice or rice type of meals three times a day. Rice clearly makes up the majority of their daily food intake (while it should not). Several studies have shown that white rice is linked to type 2 diabetes. How many Cambodian are aware of it? More importantly, how many believe in it?
Fruits and vegetables which is the foundation of recommended food pyramid are instead consumed way too little. Some people have a general sense of what is good and what is bad. But the question is: how many of them take it seriously?
To instill a strong knowledge or cause a change in behaviour in anything requires a long process of education. If our children get to learn at a young age, as part of their curriculum, the benefits and dangers of various types of food, they would form strong beliefs and shall consciously make the right decisions on what to consume, which would lead to a heathier life and less medical expense.
Through these three subjects, I hope that our kids learn to eat healthy, acquire the skills the world seriously needs, and create wealth for many generations to come.
Piseth Leng is the founder of SabaiCode, a coding and robotics school based in Phnom Penh.