Rethy Chhem, a scholar and executive director at the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, believes soft skills and modern innovations are required in Cambodian classrooms to better equip students for the dynamic work environment. With a keen interest in education, Chhem spoke to Post Plus about what the future of education in the Kingdom should entail.
The quality of teaching and the level of education provided in Cambodia have improved markedly in recent years. From your point of view, what more needs to be done to enhance the Kingdom’s education system?
To enhance the education system from a teaching/learning perspective: train and retrain teachers to become a coach for students (and to avoid a spoon feeding approach). Train and mentor students to learn how to learn, to progressively become an independent learner. Make full use of free online education resources. This requires good English literacy and smartphone skills.
The government has pinpointed the need to develop project-based learning, with a keen focus on developing soft skills. How can soft skills equip students for a successful future once they leave high school?
Technology is constantly transforming the workplace at breakneck speed. What students learn in schools will not serve them for a lifetime because of the rapid changes in the working environment. Therefore, they need to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their entire professional career. In the future, soft skills that are transferable from one job to another are vital for the graduate to survive the competition in the job market. Those soft skills include creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
You have previously stated that modern innovations are needed in Cambodian classrooms in order to teach children to solve the complex problems they will face in the future. Can you expand on the innovations required and how they can be implemented in the classroom?
The future of the education lies inside and outside the classroom. To equip students with skills for the 21st century you need to revisit the current classroom design. Teachers should be trained and classrooms should be designed to facilitate student-centred learning. A flipped classroom (whereby students read the syllabus at home and come to class to discuss the topic) within a blended learning environment (whereby face-to-face teaching co-exists with online teaching/learning) is ideal for active learning.
STEM education has been identified as an important area that will assist the human capital needs of the Kingdom moving forward. However, at the same time, basic literacy skills are lacking across the board. How can Cambodia bridge that gap between providing and increasing access to basic education while also focusing on better equipping students in important education areas such as STEM?
Firstly, STEM education is not about teaching STEM subjects. Maths, chemistry, and physics are being taught forever, but they are taught separately without any integration. The STEM curriculum is about teaching those subjects in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Hence basic education does not compete with the STEM curriculum. On the contrary, both curricula should be integrated from the primary school level. After all, the teaching of science and technology is about equipping students with good skills in observation, reasoning, embracing disagreement and making decisions based on evidence. In short, it is about developing a scientific mind in all students, whether they will embrace a career in the sciences, engineering or technology or not.
A citizen with a scientific mind will make enlightened decisions for his own life problems and contribute much more productively to solving problems faced by its country and beyond. In summary, STEM literacy will make our current basic education much more practical and relevant to both individual and societal needs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.