PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – In rural Ta Khmao, 12 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, nestled among mango trees and surrounded by a wall painted with geometric designs, lies the Liger Learning Center.
The concept of Liger is based on the idea that eradicating poverty requires a long-term investment in human change.
The Liger Set up
Trevor Gile, an American businessman, and his wife, Agnieszka Tynkiewicz-Gile, from Poland, started the Liger Charitable Foundation in 2012. Gile contributes 30 percent of profits from his investment firm to the foundation.
Students are chosen from all across the country, following an exam process. Once accepted, they return home five times a term and can call their parents weekly. No one has dropped out since Liger’s doors opened two years ago.
Parents also are evaluated, to judge how much they are willing to support their child’s long term education. The Center is focused on creating Cambodia’s next generation of entrepreneurs and problem solvers.
Advanced subjects like psychology, algebra, botany, Khmer history, computer programming, anatomy, Infographics and Statistics are taught. The foundations of Literacy and Mathematics are taught daily along with Khmer, and English.
The children collect what they learn and showcase their findings at an event held every term.
Preparing the Work Force
Six week exploration courses drive the learning center’s curriculum. Students must discover how to make a business with what they have researched.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, some students take trips to ARC HUB, a 3D printing workshop. They plan marketing and design for two products: a pencil case, with holders for rulers and pencil sharpeners; and a water bottle with pre-installed filters. One student noted that to print all parts with 3D printers would be too expensive.
Max, the “IT guy” teacher, led an exploration class of 12 students to Singapore to learn about troubleshooting technological problems with computers. The students held discussions with their Singapore counterparts using Skype and chatrooms, relaying documents and information via Google Docs.
They examined advertising, finalizing a logo, and handling requests for technical support.
Another fieldtrip was to Chi Pat, a forest village where Liger plans to strengthen eco-tourism projects in the local community. Along with Wildlife Alliance, Liger students will work on a survey to expand eco-tourism projects in the mountain village.
In a student-run lesson about Chi Pat, students discussed — in English — what they were learning.
“We are learning about tourism in Chi Pat, and we talk about what we are going to do and make a plan for a homestay,” one said.
Others exclaimed: “Work and sleep in the forest, with a hammock!” and “We want to take a camera to take a video of Chi Pat and put it on YouTube because we want Chi Pat to have more tourists.”
The Evolution of Teaching
Dominic Sharpe, Liger’s country director, is often asked how his center’s programs can change Cambodian ways of thinking.
“Children in the provinces have been living by their wits for so long,” he replied. Referring to standard schools, he continued: “The trouble is the school takes it out of them, because they are taught the right way and the wrong way, rather than to think about ideas for themselves.”
“So we get them before that spirit been taken away and encourage them to ask questions and develop individuality,” he explained. Liger wants a graduate “to be an entrepreneurial thinker – to be able look forward and create ideas and opportunities for the future.”
Sharpe said he was shocked when he learned that almost three quarters of Cambodian high school seniors failed their university entrance exams.
“We want our students to complete the high school exams, so to do that we have to teach Cambodian curriculum as well,” he said.
In June, Hang Chuon Naron, Cambodia’s education minister, visited Liger last June for its “Share-ation” event. He gave individual feedback to students on their projects. The minister said that projects like Liger are sorely needed to prepare Cambodia for economic and labor integration with ASEAN, the regional common market i