First steps of digital discovery for young Explorers

Our project at Chey has shown us the gaps that middle schoolers encounter in staying the course through to high school; while at the same time providing us with the perfect testing ground for new program pilots to help bridge that gap. 

One of our most successful programs at Chey has been our IT lab which opened in 2008. Although housed within the Primary School, it currently only offers MS Office classes for Grades 10-12 which run after school 6 days a week and are consistently full.

Tchey media lab

Recognizing the importance of digital literacy and the need to start young, we want to get middle school students familiar with technology, using digital tools and learning how to research with them – so that they can then be more successful in the courses we offer at high school level.

To do this, we are expanding our IT Tech offerings, building new ‘Explore’ classes into Grades 7-9. 

We first tried this back in 2014 and sadly failed; we had the wrong teacher, terrible internet, and a poorly thought-out strategy. We didn’t understand the initial obstacles, but we’ve now learned from those lessons. And COVID gave us the chance to seriously retool this class which we are now ready to resurrect.

Curriculum development began in July 2021 with our Operations Director Christin leading Field Director Sothy and Tech teacher Saveth, who has taught Media classes and Robotic Legos at Chey since 2012.

Sothy & Saveth Explore curriculum meeting
Teacher Saveth in Explore class

Teaching in Cambodia tends towards the ‘Chalk & Talk’ method with a heavy emphasis on learning by rote. Saveth is an invaluable PLF treasure, and has perfected how to move himself out of the way – allowing students to discover for themselves, while being on hand to guide and steer as required. 

The classes will follow a building block structure – starting with a collection of music and art apps that can be used by the younger grades without needing to know typing or advanced English. 

Sketchup for Explore class
Student using SketchUp in Explore class

Through these they will naturally learn mouse manipulation, keyboard and browser orientation, and then progress to games apps that require English & Khmer typing. They undergo a typing test at beginning and end of the pilot; Khmer and math literacy metrics; and of course learn about internet safety. 

Student typing in Khmer

And finally they will move to more academic tasks, researching and presenting on topics of their choosing, building self-confidence along the way. It will be teacher-supervised, but navigated by the students according to the projects they chose to develop. 

We’re excited to see where they will lead us!

Joining Saveth in this mini pilot are 6 students helping to inform the new program. This initial pilot is due to end in September, after which we aim to undertake a full pilot throughout the next school year. 

Middle school students on computers

So many students are now signing up for Saveth’s IT classes, we absolutely need to extend capacity to accommodate their needs, with 12 new computer terminals due to come in October. 

It’s a big lift. 

One of our big challenges was where to actually house the new Lab! We considered finding a building to create another learning center, following our successful models at other rural locations. Read the next blog instalment to find out where we landed!

At time of writing, another challenge is not being sure if the City can supply us with enough electricity to power the lab. Or if we can get sufficient bandwidth. We’re not sure about a lot of things, except that we’re 100% doing this because things have evolved since our last attempt and – though it will be challenging – we know it is absolutely essential to bring the benefits of tech to these deserving middle schoolers. 

Stay tuned!

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