Cambodian Children’s Fund leads the way in STEM education in Cambodia as students showcase innovative projects at national festival Phou Sreymai is a shining example of how CCF’s investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is paying off with proven success.
I have realised that in our community, there are a lot of problems that we can solve with technology. I really enjoy being able to look at ways we can use technology to help people.
Sreymai, 15, attends CCF’s flagship education facility - the Neeson Cripps Academy - a STEM-focused school for students from the Steung Meanchey community that overlooks the former garbage dump where some of the pupils once worked scavenging for recyclables.
Without CCF, Sreymai would never have been given the opportunity to experience such a high quality of education focusing on STEM subjects with access to world-class facilities.
Now, she’s a leading light among our STEM stars, participating in robotics, coding and technical design.
Sreymai was among the CCF students who showcased projects at the recent 15th Annual Cambodia STEM Festival in Phnom Penh, including a project called ‘Smart Garden System’ (or SGS for short) to monitor and water plants.
“I am so passionate about technology,” said Sreymai. “I’m curious about how things are made and what they do. I have realised that in our community, there are a lot of problems that we can solve with technology. I really enjoy being able to look at ways we can use technology to help people.”
The study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is acknowledged as critical to help tackle the greatest challenges in the world today like improving health and ensuring a sustainable environment.
CCF recognises that students need well-rounded STEM education to be successful in the 21st century and is committed to providing impoverished students with opportunities via the curriculum, Cambodian public school system and after-school STEM clubs.
This was made possible with the opening of the Neeson Cripps Academy (NCA) in 2017, a gift to CCF from Velcro Companies, a supporter of advancing education for children across the globe.
Every student from 7 to 11 Grade in CCF’s Education Program has dedicated STEM lessons every week. Each grade are given projects to undertake, choosing themselves from a list of options.
Katherine Prammer, CCF’s STEM Coordinator, said the aim is to engage students and make STEM subjects relevant to their everyday lives or future goals, such as running their own business.
One recent STEM project saw Grade 11 students produce and market lemongrass tea, made by a steam distillation system built in one of the NCA’s laboratories.
“My job is to find projects, all directly related to the curriculum, that have the ‘wow factor’,” said Katherine, who has a degree in Chemistry and studied for a PhD in Biophysics at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania.
These are projects that introduce students to new concepts that help them to understand the world around them and give them hands on experience to develop a vast array of new skills needed for the developing workforce in Cambodia and beyond.
I have become really passionate about technology and I love coding!
Grade 10s, for instance, have recently been delving into biometrics, building a robotic hand. Their next goal is to make a hand using rubber - a natural product of Cambodia - capable of picking up objects up to 3lbs in weight.
Grade 7 students have been working on heat efficient houses, while the Grade 8 students have designed an Organic Waste Management System, inspired by the environment of the former rubbish dump communities outside the school, where many of the students live.
Sustainable food supplies has been the topic for Grade 9s, with Grade 10 designing and producing an integrated irrigation system for the rooftop garden at the NCA.
The Grade 11 class has chosen to look at stop motion technology.
“I always thought technology was hard but went I really got into it, really concentrated, it wasn’t hard at all,” says NCA student Nhoern Vanneit, 17.
His eyes light up as he talks animatedly about STEM and technology.
“Since I joined STEM [club], I have become really passionate about technology and I love coding!” he says.
“I want to be a businessman and I want to use technology in my business.”
Both Vanneit and fellow STEM enthusiast Sreymai are active in CCF’s robotics club and represented CCF and Cambodia at the World Robot Olympiad in Thailand in 2018, along with selected teams from all over the world.
They were also at last year’s 2019 Cambodia heat, where CCF teams won places at the International Final of the Olympiad in Hungary on a funded trip with their designed and coded robot using LEGO robotics kits.
The pair were part of the team of seven CCF students who exhibited projects at the 2019 Cambodia STEM Festival in Phnom Penh in November, featuring some of the brightest young minds from public and private schools from around Cambodia.
It was the first ever GREEN STEM Festival looking at solutions for economic and environmental issues facing Cambodia now and in the years ahead.
The high profile event attracted more than 13,000 attendees and was the first major festival CCF has attended.
CCF students won praise for their creativity and innovation with their Smart Garden, a plant watering system using sensors to monitor soil moisture, sunlight, air quality, temperature and humidity, which can be operated remotely via a smartphone app.
An artificial intelligence project capable of facial and colour recognition was also a hit.
Sreymai was proud to represent CCF but is even prouder to be representing girls in technology.
Even though there has been progress towards increasing the participation of women and girls in higher education, they are still underrepresented in STEM fields, according to the Cambodia STEM Festival website.
CCF is actively encouraging girls into studying STEM subjects and areas such as engineering as viable career options. The business case for girls in STEM education is clear – there are clear skills gaps in Cambodia’s science and technology industries and girls are underrepresented both educationally and in the workforce.
CCF sees a unique and timely opportunity to meet girls’ programmatic needs and champion the development of STEM education for girls in Cambodia.
“The traditional thought [in Cambodia] is that technology is not meant for girls,” says Sreymai. “I want to show the world that girls have power, that girls can do this.”
Among CCF’s 2019 university graduates was our first female graduate of Civil Engineering and in 2018, the NCA was the venue for a Girls in Science and Technology, where CCF girls showcased science-themed presentations exploring topics such as engineering and coding.
CCF’s STEM team has also been working with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) as it devises an action plan for a STEM pathway and implementation for all students across Cambodia.
STEM coordinator Katherine Prammer says the impact of CCF’s STEM work goes beyond the gates of the Neeson Cripps Academy.
“The reach is more than this building. What we are doing here can go into the community and Cambodia as a whole.”