Along with all other sectors in the Cambodian society, education has seen a tremendous change – from few printed reading materials to blackboards to outdoor classes to PowerPoint presentations and to online examinations. The education system has seen an evolution that went beyond our expectations and foresights. These changes, which are undoubtedly huge, have created rapid progress in the learning habits and capabilities of the Cambodian students.
As an educationist and founder of the Mengly J. Quach Education, Dr. Mengly J. Quach has seen these changes transpire in his very own institutions. This evolution has paved the way for more conducive, open and accessible learning strategies – the branding MJQE has long been known for.
As Cambodia adapts to technological advancements and modern influences, how has your school moved forward in terms of new teaching methods and learning schemes?
Dr. Mengly: We recognise and value the importance of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students. Despite the new and modern ways of teaching, we can never replace the traditional classroom set-ups. Classroom, face-to-face, teachers, boards, assignments – those are still very much relevant in the present education system we are following. They are essential parts of learning, regardless if we’re talking about modern learning or the basic. However, we also know that our teaching methods have to step up to cater the growing demands of students. We have regular workshops for our teachers where they are taught how to effectively use computers to convey their lessons. Our teachers utilise technology to better share information to students. With this, we know that our students are well-guided by their mentors through personal, verbal communications inside the classrooms and are also equipped with knowledge through modern teaching programmes.
Are the students in MJQE allowed to use gadgets – mobile phones, laptops, tablets – inside the classrooms?
Dr. Mengly: We are one of the schools here in Phnom Penh that practice modern ways of teaching. Most of the students here have access to more than one device. But inside our classrooms, we only allow laptops and tablets. We do not allow our students to bring their mobile phones because it disturbs and distracts learning, with the students’ parents constantly checking on them. Sometimes, students forget to switch their phones into silent mode. To solve this, we established a policy to not allow any phone at all inside the classrooms. If we catch students violating this, we confiscate the phones for one month. We believe having mobile phones isn’t really good for children. These gadgets are only supposed to be used for emergency purposes. So, once they’re inside the classrooms – where their safety is ensured – they should put their phones aside. But, we acknowledge that we can only control the students inside the classrooms. When they step outside, they already have the freedom to do the things they want.
Is technology negatively affecting the way students learn?
Dr. Mengly: In a certain way, technology has actually improved the students’ way of coping with their lessons, it has improved their comprehension. They now feel more competitive in learning, easily absorbing information. It actually seems like their brain cells are growing and expanding and nourishing. But, somehow, technology also has a negative connotation. This happens especially if the parents do not fully understand how technology works. Many parents are unaware of what their children do on their mobile screens. Many of them feel proud that their kids are tech-savvy. What they do not know is that these modern gadgets are making their kids more socially awkward, dangerous and violent because of the unfiltered contents they see online. If there is no proper screening or monitoring of the online contents, it can be very dangerous for children.
With the emergence of social media and as people obviously get too hooked to it, how does MJQE ensure the safety of students and school staff against cyber violence?
Dr. Mengly: It’s a sad reality that the new generation has brought cold, desensitised people. Technology has made people become less emotional and more robotic. Basically, we lost this traditional way of caring for others because we got so influenced by what we have seen online. Sometimes, technology gives us this negative impact when not controlled and monitored. This is also where the school comes in. In our school, we understand the negative impact of the use of technology to the students that’s why we have set some rules. Here, you can use whatever you have, but we screen the websites that our students and our staff are using. We make sure that websites that contain violent and inappropriate contents are blocked from our systems. Even Facebook is blocked. We encourage the use of technology for learning, but also want to instill discipline among students to use these advancements for their betterment, for the improvement of their social skills.