Impact of COVID-19, Online Learning and Challenges Facing Cambodian Students

Image: MoEYS/Khmer Times

Uon Kakada
Hun Sen Batdeung High School
Kampong Speu, Cambodia
August 29, 2020

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COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus which was first discovered in China in December 2019 and has since spread around the world, causing great damage to the global economy and disruptions to all aspects of human life. It is one of the worst health crises that the modern world has ever experienced.

The latest figures by the worldometers website shows that the total number of coronavirus cases worldwide was almost 25 million on August 28, 2020. Among these, 839,702 people have died and around 17 million have recovered. In Cambodia, according to the latest report by the Ministry of Health of Cambodia, there were 273 cases of COVID-19. Fortunately, no one has died from COVID-19 and 263 people have recovered. 

The situation of the COVID-19 pandemic is changing fast globally. For Cambodia, one of the developing countries in mainland Southeast Asia, it has been impacted by COVID-19 in ways similar to other countries in the region. All sectors in the country including garment factories, private companies, bars, restaurants, schools, universities, and other service providers have been disrupted and all levels of education from early childhood to higher education are also affected by the pandemic.  

In May 2020, the Cambodia Daily, citing the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia reported that there were about 180 factories which have suspended their operations, wreaking havoc on more than 150,000 workers who were temporarily suspended from work. Many other workers in other sectors have lost their jobs, leading to a sudden increase in unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, the education system is one of the sectors adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and universities are still closed, although some private schools that can meet COVID-19 safety standards have been allowed to reopen. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has recently released guidelines for other schools to follow when they can reopen in September. Students of all levels in both public and private schools are however encouraged to stay at home and continue their education through distance learning and online video lessons supported by MoEYS.

MoEYS has tried to support students’ education by immediately providing distance learning opportunities through varieties of online platforms and applications including Zoom, Facebook, Microsoft Teams Google Classroom and YouTube, etc. Furthermore, MoEYS has also cooperated with the Ministry of Information to broadcast live recorded video lessons on television across the country and official Facebook pages as well as YouTube channels of relevant stakeholders to help all students continue their learning.

Despite these initiatives, there are challenges as Cambodia still needs time to develop its education system. Although the number of internet users in Cambodia is increasing, some Cambodian students, particularly those in rural areas, still do not have access to the internet. According to a spokesman for the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia reported by Khmer Times, the number of internet subscribers in Cambodia grows by 20 percent to 16.1 million in 2019.

The internet speed in the city is relatively fast and acceptable, while the speed in rural areas is still slow and inadequate. Some families in remote areas cannot even afford to buy a smartphone for their children to study online. The situation is exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on their income. Some families even spend a lot of money to buy internet service on their phone to allow their children to continue learning. This makes them face great difficulties as regards their daily and monthly expense.     

During the celebration of Teachers’ Day in 2019, Samdech Krala Hom Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, stated that “despite the rapid development of technology, teachers still play an important role that technology has not yet been able to replace, especially the ability and professionalism of teachers to manage the teaching process in the classroom”.

I agree with the above statement. The modern technologies can surely help students to learn; however, learning through television or smartphone live streams can sometimes make students feel bored and exhausted when they are spending hours sitting in front of the screen without student-teacher interactions that are available in the physical classroom. Moreover, students might find it difficult to ask questions when they do not understand the lesson. They may sometimes leave the online learning session to spend time on social media or on gaming and other applications not relevant to their lessons.  

Thus, the effectiveness of online learning still has limitations if it is not effectively managed. Parents at this time really play an important role in controlling their children’s learning time; otherwise, their children might not focus on studying, affecting the outcome of their online learning.

In summary, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly forces people across the world to change the way they live, work and study. As the pandemic continues, people will have to adapt to a new way of living, working and studying. For Cambodian students, they might have to adapt in order to continue education through online learning while they are waiting for schools to reopen.

The Author

Uon Kakada has 10-year experience in teaching English. He is now working as an English teacher at Hun Sen Batdeung High School in Kampong Speu province, Cambodia. He has a Master of Education from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He lives in Phnom Penh.

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