Chhinh Roth Vortheaknak
Student, Western International School
A common strive in the 21st century, that can be witnessed across the globe in countries that are still in the developing phase is in its education sector. From kindergarten all the way to high school, an abundance of young intellectuals is constricted with having access to quality educational materials, or at the least, proper educational assets to help them learn, explore, think and create. It is rather unfortunate that such talents are hidden across the globe due to these constrictions. Talents that could one day, bring upon great changes that could benefit humanity entirely.
Today, I would like to discuss and share information and facts regarding the state of education in a country that is particularly well-received in the tourism industry throughout the globe, along with various other wonders and that is, my country, Cambodia. Home to the ancient, religious and prestigious Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia is a country filled with unending fascination in many aspects.
However, for a country to prosper, its people or citizens must be educated to some degree to execute the task needed to enforce and push through necessary actions for a country to progress. Hence, in this world, classification of how far a country has come through and the state it is in is defined by these two simple terms, “Developed” and “Developing”.
In the case of my country, and many others through the Asian region, we are in the developing stage and the major aspect holding each of us back is in the education sector, where youths all over do not have what it takes and important accesses to break through educationally.
As a student in an International High School who has visited quite a few schools in rural areas, after witnessing such a scenery, I can quite say that a part of me deep down was struck down. One particular thought that came through was the stupendous gap of educational quality between urban and rural students here in Cambodia. It is, astonishing to say the least. Private school students here have access to an abundant of modernized facilities, which not even one can be found in a rural school’s classroom. There were no air conditioners, no computers, heck there was even no light bulb on the ceiling and let alone a simple tablet for basic online interactions. The number of public schools outweigh the amount of private school in Cambodia, thus, that was how constricted it was to be in a rural environment. In addition, without these technological assets in the modern-day world, it is quite ostensible at how fast those children will hit the stone.
However, there was one person together with two colleagues in the whole entire country as of now, who chose to create something like no others to support and provide to children everywhere across the country, with a new way of learning online and the mastermind behind it is my father himself. He constructed the Sangapac name, roughly around two years ago and the goal of this establishment is direct and simple, to provide the privilege of using technological instruments such as computers and tablets to perform online education in the Khmer language, mathematics, and science to children in primary school throughout the country. Despite being his son, I am not as acutely aware of what he had done in creating the website as the basics were still under creation but after a period of time passed by, I got my chance to test it out and today, I would like to briefly demonstrate and discuss, how the website, the Sangapac activities as a whole, and the establishment’s end-goal can help children to
Thus, he went to create something with the Sangapac name that could be utilized as a tool, a tool made for those unprivileged students throughout and came up with the idea of online-based education, which is an online learning website. Online education is not something, recently developed, and can be found in various websites for free but it is only limited to the English language and children here in Cambodia do not communicate or write in English unfortunately. The establishment is Khmer based, so every Cambodian individual can use it and have the opportunity to have access and interact with modern equipment but more importantly, to be able think critically using language and mathematic skills through acquired knowledge.
The description below refers to Khmer learning tasks in grade 1 only.
Although the establishment itself is still currently under construction, I had the privilege to access and interact with the early software build and its content, thus I will be demonstrating how it works and its beneficial outcomes while remaining true to my impressions and having an unbiased approach. The following are simply my opinions regarding the various educational approaches.
Firstly, upon analyzing the content of each lesson only, I could see that the approach and gradual difficulty increase was ostensible but, in a manner, that did not seem forced. I found it somewhat repetitive but the integration of vivid and eye-catching pictures was what eased the feeling of repetition while I was going through each part. Although I mentioned that it was somewhat repetitive, I would say that it was not as boring as school textbooks but then again, moving to computer based-learning can bring upon the same kind of feeling as time goes on. Like many others, I find working with something eye-catching tend to keep me attended better than looking at something plain. Learning words and numbers, to me is something I would consider as art. How each number and letter are written differently, the endless number of forms it can take, the meanings, and much more.
From here on out, I will be describing the intended goal after doing each section based on the current build. Each and every lesson that were available, had the same amount and similar kind of sections to go through with the only difference being the content inside.
I found it hardly necessary to go through but I decided to test it out anyway and found that it was rather useful in some way, even for a high schooler like me. One thing that was brought to light while I was going through it was how flexible the Khmer language was compared to something like English. Khmer words can be formed from just using one vowel and one character together, but it usually does not end there and go up to somewhat complex-looking levels. I myself, am not profound in Khmer to begin with so quite an amount of those words took me by surprise. Many of the words I saw when going through were words that I have never heard before since birth. One more thing that is worth mentioning is that, because this is a computer-based learning approach, the student can click on the repeat button as many times as needed to play the recorded sound and to remember what the object is called or how it is pronounced. Instead, being called to stand up and repeat the words written on the board, a great approach that students can go along with is through visual memorization, by incorporating pictures. In this case, a student will be presented with a picture and volume icon that will play the correct word according to the picture. I myself also like to use pictures to aid in my studies as, like many others, visual memorization will be imprinted in our brains longer and is something that I consider, unrepetitive.
After going through it, I would consider this section, an even more direct approach to completing the question given, compared to the first one. In this section, students are required to match the correct the pictures with the given word. Followed by the first section’s approach to visual memorization, this one simply requires to the pictures to be dragged-and-dropped into the box. The same words are still there, but this one is more or less, like a quiz to see how much the student can remember after going through the first section. Due to the first section being applicable as a slow learning process, I find the second section quite flexible in its learning approach. Teachers can arrange it to be a game between teams, a timed quiz, or even just a simple classroom lesson to go through. Even more, rather than going through it as entire class, I find that each student can go through it individually or in very small groups. This method will give more students chances to comply to the given questions because simply calling each student to say out the word is more time consuming and simply just listening to someone else saying the word will not be beneficial to the long-term memory. At the same time, it will be more time saving because the teacher does not have to go through each student individually, and being able to leave spare time to do other things before the class ends.
In this section, students are required to perform very basic find-and-confirm tasks. However, this is where it gets kind of interesting, for me at least. Throughout the years of being in class almost every single day and week, I found that some students often have slow reaction times to given tasks, usually tasks that are constricted by time. For this section, after going through it, it is safe to say that each student can take their time finding the words among the many others and just be done with it, but that would not contribute much. Instead, this is something I thought, could be a real test of reaction and reflex speed. This section plays very well with time-based challenges, where each student would be competing against time to see how much he or she can complete. I say that this section helps with reaction speed improvements because, later down the line, say during an English exam, if the student is scanning through and it ends up being sluggish, it could cost a lot of time if the student is not yet capable of getting used to analyzing rapidly. Thus, this is why I think that having fast reaction and scanning speeds are important later on and this section helps the best with that and at the same time, it could be less boring.
Within similar bounds to the first section, this section’s approach requires the user to drag and drop the words they hear into the box, corresponding to the audio playback. It is not all that different and like the first section, it prioritizes listening to help users improve their listening skills, but there is no visual aid thus, this is a real test for the ears to feast. I can imagine how tricky it can get for higher grades, when spoken word is written in different ways among the boxes to trick the user so it more or less requires the user to know how that word is spelt properly, though this is a slightly more different approach then what we are discussing here so, there is that.
Like the second section's special feature that has a strong emphasis (in my opinion) on visual memorization, this section requires a bit of thinking because this section's special pick is alphabet memorization in the Khmer language. Previously mentioned, my thoughts regarding its writing system complexity is certainly brain-scrutinizing to an extent, where thousands of words are formed using its various kinds of vowels. This is what builds this section's confusing approach if the user is not well accustomed or well educated with the Khmer writing system. However, it is not as complicated as one would think but mistakes can be easily made if not attentive. During my on-going session, I found myself making quite a number of mistakes and with this being just the first grade, I could only imagine how brain-itching it will be if this kind of exercise appears in higher levels and could pose a bit of a challenge to many users across. I found that this exercise is among the fewer bunch that are not existential in most classrooms throughout the country as I deem these types of exercises, a thinking-based road trip to the depths of the awaiting hell.
Upon first look at this section, I would not say that it was something new, or puzzling but in accordance to the way the Khmer people interact with the Khmer writing system, I found this part very necessary as the way we Cambodians spell words are a bit different from something like, say English for example. In Khmer, the main characters go first, then followed by the correct vowels of a certain word and this can extend quite far and make spelling things a bit confusing at times. However, I see some potential at how the Sangapac exercises can help correct this issue for those who have spelling concerns. In fact, I think it would even be practical to do fun spelling contests from time to time which would encourage productive and competitive learning by avoiding the act of being abrasive or egotistical towards each other, as this is something I often witness when competitiveness can get out of hand at certain times.
Previewing back to my early mentions of how numbers and letters are a kind of art to me, writing them is also another form that embraces the artistical approaches that we humans are capable off. In this section, the users are required to type down the words they here upon hearing the playback audio file when pressed, with pictures to guide them through, in case the words presented, catch them off-guard, which happened to me on several occasions whenever my class was holding a small writing-with-listening session. This section requires a bit of technical skills that requires the user to be able to type in Khmer. I would consider it, just a small hurdle to get through as typing is, as obvious as it may sound, something anyone can learn. In addition, because we are living in the digital age, where neglecting computer-based interactions will not help much to advance further. Like the above sections described, this one also has pictures to serve as glimpse hints just in case the user is familiar with the word but does not know what it is, or what it looks like. Some pictures may look obvious as to what it is, but there are also pictures that do not look familiar and the playback audio might not seem as clear and can catch the user slightly off-guard.
After going through this section, I would say that it is easier than the fifth section, but it is not something to simply dismiss as being approachable either. The user is presented with an incomplete sentence, that has a blank space somewhere in the sentence and words in the boxes down below where the user is required to choose the correct word to put in the blank space. However, this is where another trick comes in. See, in everyday life, one meaning expressed by a bunch words and sentences can be presented in various forms throughout, and this is where the user requires a bit of basic thinking as to which word fits the sentence. Some users will interpret the sentence in a different meaning, and it would still make sense, in a way at least. The trick is to find out which word makes the most sense. I would assume that, in some exercises, where almost all the given word in the boxes would make sense when plugged into the sentence, and could leave the user scratching their heads. So, I would consider this to be slightly challenging due how differently people interpret the sentences, at least from what I see.
After going through all eighth sections, I came across all sorts of new things and difficulties throughout. I initially thought that it would not get any strenuous but this section, this is where I was ultimately stomped to the ground, with mistakes made, in almost all the given exercises. The section’s title is labelled as, “Fun with Sangapac”, and yes, I was able to make some fun out of it, but I certainly did not understand what the intended goal was for some part. For this section, the user is presented with four boxes, words, and various kinds of given questions for compliance. Initially, it looked very simple at first glance, but it left me scratching my head several times due my various misinterpretations. The part where I made the most mistakes was when the question asked me to state which word is different among all the given four. Like the eighth’s section approach that shows how people interpret the sentences differently, this section follows the same approach but in a more confusing manner. At first glance, I would often see people jump to meaning differentiation, and although that way works, it could also be wrong sometimes. Depending on the exercises, the wanted answer could be based on the way the word is spelt, the way it is pronounced, the way it is written, its meaning, what it is, its consonant, all contribute to the confusions among the four words given there. I would place this as first in terms of emphasis on thinking skills compared to all of the above because of the many possible paths one can think of, but other users may find it easy. Then again, this is the first grade’s exercise I was doing and like the above, the flexibility of the section’s approach can extend far and wide by adding more phrases and mixing up words altogether. The purpose of this exercise is not to get the correct answer but to give an opportunity to the students to observe, compare, and be ready to explain their answer.
To conclusively wrap up my opinions regarding the Sangapac online-learning establishment and my experiences with it, thus far, without sounding inclined, although it is a great product that is made to benefit unprivileged students throughout Cambodia, and as I can totally agree that it is, this is the first in Cambodia and it is still early for extensive evaluation as I was utilizing an incomplete build. However, I can confidently say that it is on the right path with what the product provides.
Coming back to the topic at hand, all over the above sections I described, when combined, certainly makes the content more enjoyable to learn by incorporating different learning ways, at the same time, focusing on the main content on hand without being ostensible to repetitiveness. Provoking the student’s (or user’s) interest is important to let them be motivated to learn and I personally found this approach, fairly exciting, if utilized right like my few mentions above about how flexible some of the sections are, and being able to turn it to something fun and dynamically enticing.
Normally, when one encounters a problem, it provokes their thinking instantly to come out and help, and as from what I have been seeing so far, some of the sections have really made me think quite a bit before proceeding to the next part. The tricky sections that I have mentioned could make users think hard to decide on the correct answer. It makes the user think constantly when an obstacle appears and the more thinking is used, at least from my opinion, the ability to think will certainly become better. Making the mistakes also contribute to the user’s thinking abilities because it can make them think more cautiously and critically, to understand and find out what is right and what is wrong.
 This review was made in 2019.