Around the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to undo improvements to address the general wellbeing, poverty, education, equity, and life of citizens. Yet, internationally, and in Cambodia, virtual education has been a saviour in facilitating the continuation of learning as well as inspiring students and teachers.
Globally, the gravity and devastation of the COVID-19 crisis has cut across all sectors and the negative impact of COVID-19 on children is catastrophic, with educational opportunities being stalled or nonexistent. Worldwide, 1.5 billion students were reportedly out of school, accentuated by job losses and economic instability.
In Cambodia alone, over three million primary and secondary school children have been affected by school closures. Schools provide children with more than an education – they provide nutritious meals, safe-spaces and psychological and developmental support.
Education has the power to bridge divides and bring about a slew of benefits to a country, city, community, and family, so there is no time like the present to plan for a future that utilises virtual training and learning via technology.
Although Cambodians have seen considerable improvements to the economy and education over the past few decades, a large percentage of the population continues to live below the poverty line. As in many developing countries suffering the aftermath of war, unschooled and underprivileged children beg for an income of less than one dollar a day, which they bring home to their families.
Under these circumstances, it is hard for parents or guardians to allow their children to go to school since it may cause the family to starve. Despite this, the children are usually eager for an education. This is where The Global Child and a host of other nonprofits come in.
The Global Child (TGC) is a nonprofit organisation providing underprivileged street-working children the opportunity to obtain a quality education by subsidising one dollar a day for students. For almost two decades, the Global Child has operated a school and safe-house in Siem Reap province providing impoverished children with a well-rounded education, life skills, and a cultural understanding of their country to promote students’ independence and leadership.
Like many schools, COVID-19 has caused TGC to close their doors for classes. Despite traditional avenues to education being unavailable amid the pandemic, the government and NGOs across the country are turning to flexible virtual teaching formats.
Cambodia is dedicated to ensuring children and families have improved economic conditions, education, and societal outlooks with hopes to improve equality and reduce poverty. The mission is clear – continue providing quality education to children and families across the country. This is no easy feat, as students and teachers are facing difficulties in the move to virtual learning.
A recent MoEYS-UNICEF small-scale online survey found that besides the typical concerns of access and training, many students and families are concerned about learning outcomes and the future of their children’s education. In many cases, the children are the bright light for the future of the families, as well as Cambodian society.
According to this survey, over 62 percent of students think they are learning less virtually than they did in-person. The survey also identified the need for innovative distance learning to better engage and motivate children, especially primary and secondary aged and better structures for monitoring the students learning abilities and outcomes.
Given the identified needs of TGC’s students and children across Cambodia, TGC has gone beyond virtual education, to inspire students and teachers alike to teach, learn, dream and create change.
The Global Child has conducted an extensive study measuring the pre- and post-COVID-19, challenges, and successes, accentuated by the implementation of training and online tool exposure. The lack of technology access or inadequate access, broadband infrastructure, training, and the ability to learn online has been shown to hinder the academic success of students.
Besides this, the economic strains and familial obligations are making virtual education that much tougher. Prior to COVID-19, it was found that over 70 percent of TGC’s staff were unable to use online teaching tools and about 45 percent of the students were unable to utilise mobile devices for virtual learning.
Following extensive training and virtual support, almost 100 percent of TGC’s staff were able to successfully teach online and around 80 percent of students were able to meet milestones and show that they received a quality online education.
The final results of the study highlighted that 96 percent of students highly appreciated the opportunity to learn online and were willing to adjust their learning style simply because they yearned for an education.
In March, when schools closed, TGC jumped into action to ensure that the students who were sent “home” or to live in temporary housing were equipped with food, supplies, and physical schoolwork every week. Each student was given a homemade cloth face mask and taught social-distancing health procedures to help them get through COVID-19 pandemic.
However, this method was deemed unreliable and inefficient, so the move to online education was pursued. In this, TGC began training the teachers to use online tools to teach, students to use smartphones to learn and families to support the students in their endeavours while at home.
Virtual learning became a routine, with classes held every morning six days a week. Although students struggled, TGC continued to provide training and have constant check-ins to ensure that they were adequately prepared to engage and learn online.
Throughout these sessions, TGC noticed that the students began to engage more, but aired concerns about the state of COVID-19 globally, especially in the United States, where many of the donors and volunteers live. It was here, that the Community for Distance Learning Initiative was created to promote virtual education and training, work with partners to ensure sharing of resources, build further relations between Cambodia and the United States and continue promoting equality in education, the economy, and the government.
The central premise of this initiative was to continue providing quality education to their students bridging the traditional Khmer curriculum with Western practices. Within this, the school found it is key to work with partners – both local and international – to carry out the mission.
In coordinating with the Women’s Resource Centre and other schools in the area, TGC has been able to train other educators to teach virtually and engage families in discussions and workshops aimed at family development, education, and health. This initiative hopes to support at least another 5,000 students and families by providing quality education.
Lastly, to ensure cultural understanding and a strong rapport between Cambodia and the United States, TGC is taking the opportunities presented by virtual learning, to have guest speakers come to talk to the students about education, goals, future planning, and careers and taking virtual field trips to museums and cities around the world.
With virtual learning, it is possible to not only connect to students and their families but thousands of other children and families along the way. All of the efforts work together to not only promote education during COVID-19 but promote economic and societal growth.
The successes of virtual learning opens up countless possibilities for the future of education paving the way for a more sustainable future for Cambodians and the world.