Introduction: Engaging and Supporting Cambodian Youth to Write for Publication in English

Kimkong Heng
The University of Queensland

Koemhong Sol
International Christian University

Sopheap Kaing
University of Fribourg 

Vutha Ros
The University of Hong Kong

Introduction

Research has shown that the research capacity of Cambodian universities and their academic staff remains underdeveloped. Although the Cambodian government, through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), has introduced a few key initiatives such as Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project (HEQCIP) and Higher Education Improvement Project (HEIP) to stimulate research activities in higher education, Cambodia’s research performance lags behind that of many countries in the region (Heng et al., 2020). A bibliometric analysis by Heng (2021), for example, shows that Cambodia ranked 8th in ASEAN, producing only 3,521 documents over the last ten years, which are indexed in the Scopus database, one of the world’s largest abstract and citation databases.

Considering Cambodia’s past tragedy under the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979) in which educated Cambodians were targeted for execution, Cambodia emerged as a country with “a missing generation of intellectuals” after the collapse of the genocidal regime (Kwok et al., 2010, p. 10). The development of higher education began only recently, particularly after the country began the national building process following the United Nations-sponsored national elections in 1993. Cambodian higher education began to experience marked growth after 1997 when the government allowed the establishment of private universities and the introduction of fee-based models in public universities (Un et al., 2017).

At present, there are 125 higher education institutions, 77 of which are privately owned (MoEYS, 2019). To promote higher education research in Cambodia, MoEYS has introduced and implemented several policies, including Policy on Research Development in the Education Sector, Master Plan for Research Development in the Education Sector, and Policy on Higher Education 2030. With support from the World Bank, MoEYS implemented a US$23 million HEQCIP project. One of the components of this project was the introduction of Development and Innovation Grants that funded almost 50 research projects across the public and private HEIs in the country. Recently, MoEYS has introduced another World Bank-funded project (HEIP) worth US$92.5 million to support teaching and research activities in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and agriculture (See Heng, 2020a).

The implementation of a newly established nationwide research grant scheme called the Research Creativity and Innovation Fund and the announcement on the implementation of academic titles have given hope to the development of a research culture in Cambodia (Heng, 2020a). All of these recent initiatives are Cambodia’s humble attempts to respond to globalization and the global trend toward the internationalization of higher education and a knowledge-based economy. In addition, as Cambodia aspires to transform itself into a knowledge-based society and become an upper-middle-income country by 2030, greater attention has been paid to research and innovation. In the Education Strategic Plan 2019–2023, for instance, MoEYS aims to increase full-time academic staff with PhD degrees to 5 percent and establish at least three centers of excellence at HEIs by 2023 (MoEYS, 2019). It also sets out to improve the overall capacity in teaching, learning, and research in higher education by upgrading curricula, faculty qualifications, and graduate programs.

The Need to Support Youth to Write for Publication in English

To promote a healthy research culture in Cambodia, active collaboration and involvement from all stakeholders are needed. As Heng (2020b) stated, “all stakeholders across the three different levels—macro, meso and micro—have pivotal roles to play. They share interrelated roles and have power and agency to effect change and make a difference to a research culture in Cambodia”. However, there are many barriers to the development of a vibrant research culture in Cambodia. Key challenges range from low academic salaries to limited academic freedom to a lack of an effective incentive and award system for research. Other barriers include poor research infrastructure, heavy teaching loads, and limited research skills on the part of academics themselves (see CICP, 2016; Heng, 2020b; Kwok et al., 2010).

Moreover, there seems to be an absence of a community of research practice within most Cambodian HEIs. Except for a few well-established public universities such as the Royal University of Phnom Penh, most HEIs do not have the capacity for research. It is rare to see these HEIs conduct research seminars and produce research outputs in the form of academic journals or scientific magazines. Overall, there is a lack of a conducive environment for research in most universities (Kwok et al., 2010). As Eam’s (2015) survey of 444 Cambodian lecturers across ten universities showed, almost 65% of these lecturers were not involved in any research activities at all. When there were research activities, most were commissioned research.

Despite this, there seems to be a growing interest in research among Cambodian youth, who make up almost two-thirds of Cambodia’s 16 million population. Although there has not been any substantial research into this matter, anecdotal evidence suggests that many young Cambodians aspire to be writers or researchers. The publication of this volume is a telling example as all short chapters are contributed by Cambodian youth, all of whom are university students or recent university graduates. They are young, capable, and inspired. They only need support and mentorship to develop into more experienced writers or young researchers.

Against this backdrop, as co-editors of Cambodian Education Forum (CEF), we are obliged to offer free mentoring support to aspiring Cambodian youth who wish to write and publish articles in English. We are convinced that with proper and sufficient support, young Cambodian writers will be able to unlock their potential and do what they are often reluctant to do, that is, to write and publish articles in English. Therefore, given our strong interest and commitment to contribute to building research in Cambodia, we initiated an internship program to offer youth the opportunity to work under our coordination and mentorship. They were required to write at least one education-related article per month to meet the internship requirements. Their articles would later be reviewed and edited for publication on CEF’s website.

We recruited ten interns for the program, which lasted almost six months from November 2020 to April 2021. Throughout the internship program, we offered support to the interns by answering any questions they had while writing and training them on how to use citations and develop reference lists in their articles. We paired them up and asked them to review one another’s articles before we reviewed them again. After a few revisions, their articles were edited for publication. In the event that the articles were not up to the standard, we required them to revise them again until they reach a standard suitable for publication.

Over the course of about six months, seven interns were able to write 18 short articles which were published on CEF’s website and republished in this volume. Unfortunately, three interns were not able to bring their articles to an acceptable standard, so their articles were not included in this edited volume. We hope they would take the time to revise their articles, and once they are ready, we will publish them on our website.

In the future, we will continue to support Cambodian youth to write and publish their work, including short and medium-length articles. We are committed to this cause and believe that there is a need to support youth to write for publication in English. We will launch the second round of our internship program in the middle of this year so that aspiring Cambodian youth will have a chance to work with us to cultivate their writing skills and help contribute to building a research and publication culture in Cambodia. 

Organization of this Edited Volume

This edited volume is composed of a collection of short articles (also called chapters in this book) written by young writers who have participated in CEF’s first internship program. There are 18 short articles in total that are grouped into two parts. Some articles are primarily based on opinions, while others are research-based articles. The volume begins with an introductory chapter, followed by Part I consisting of 13 articles/chapters that reflect on various contemporary educational issues and Part II containing five chapters that present Cambodian youth’s perspectives on the role of education in Cambodian society. The volume ends with a concluding chapter that offers our reflections on CEF’s internship program and how the wider community can contribute to promoting research and publication in Cambodia.

Part I: Youth’s Reflections on Contemporary Educational Issues

In Chapter 1, Phearun Chhoeurm highlights some critical challenges and opportunities of online learning in Cambodia amid the COVID-19 pandemic and suggests that digitalization in learning and teaching should be sustained post-COVID-19. In Chapter 2, Rathana Phin examines the possibility of whether e-learning will replace traditional classroom-based learning. This chapter discusses the benefits and challenges of e-learning and concludes that both learning modes should be blended, given the pros and cons of both. Socheata Ly, in Chapter 3, looks at the benefits of Facebook as an educational tool. This chapter suggests that, if used properly, Facebook can be a useful educational tool for both formal and informal learning.

Chapter 4 by Phearun Chhoeurm discusses a growing concern of cyberbullying in higher education in the digital age and its consequences. The author concludes the chapter by offering several suggestions to address the issue of cyberbullying. Chapter 5 by Kanika Nhil explores the challenges facing Cambodia’s working industry within the context of the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. The author points out the skills needed in Industry 4.0 and suggests that all stakeholders work together to develop a highly-skilled workforce that Cambodia needs to strive in Industry 4.0. In Chapter 6, Rathana Phin explains the benefits of bilingual education and urges Cambodia to embrace and invest more in this type of education. In Chapter 7, Socheata Ly discusses key factors that students should consider when choosing their university majors. They include interest, ability, career and employability prospects, and future income potential. Sokvy Rim, in Chapter 8, encourages students to pursue an international relations major. The author argues that studying international relations equips students with critical thinking and analytical skills to understand and solve contemporary issues involving politics and economics.

In Chapter 9, Mealeatey Meak discusses why failing to prepare means preparing to fail. Drawing on Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” the author goes on to explain why preparation is the key to success. Chapter 10 by Socheata Ly addresses a popular study strategy that many university students resort to after they have put off work until the last minute, that is, the one-night policy. The author offers six concrete reasons why university students should not practice this policy. In Chapter 11, Mealeatey Meak, drawing mainly on existing research, explains the significance of mental health and offers several useful tips to improve it.

Chapter 12 by Sothavotey Nhim looks at tips to improve English speaking skills. The author first explains why it is essential to improve speaking skills before outlining several useful tips for enhancing this essential communication skill. Chapter 13 concludes this part. It is another contribution by Socheata Ly, who offers five practical tips to achieve exam success.

Part II: Youth’s Perspectives on the Role of Education

This part consists of five chapters that deal with different types of education. Chapter 14 by Kanika Nhil discusses why early childhood education (ECE) is vital for Cambodia. The author explains the need to focus on ECE and why it can serve as a solid foundation for children’s education in the later stage of their lives. In Chapter 15, Sokvy Rim turns attention to the essential role of Buddhist pagodas in supporting modern education in Cambodian society, although the role of Buddhism in education seems to have diminished. Chapter 16 focuses on sex education. In this chapter, Mealeatey Meak discusses what sex education is, how limited sex education affects Cambodian society, and why it is crucial to expand the provision of sex education in schools.

In Chapter 17, Phearun Chhoeurm examines the significance of higher education and the challenges to higher education enrollment in Cambodia. The author argues that university education is essential as it provides students with enormous opportunities and the ability to enhance their lives and contribute to the development of their country. In the final chapter in this part, Sokvy Rim, arguing that education is the key to Cambodia’s future, calls for greater attention and investment in education. No doubt, as Cambodia envisages becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050, it needs a robust education system to produce a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can stimulate economic growth and promote inclusive and sustainable development.

References

CICP. (2016). Doing research in Cambodia: Making models that build capacity. Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. https://cicp.org.kh/publications/doing-research-in-cambodia-making-models-that-build-capacity/

Eam, P. (2015). Factors differentiating research involvement among faculty members: A perspective from Cambodia. Excellence in Higher Education, 6(1&2), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.5195/ehe.2015.133

Heng, K. (2020a). New hope for a research culture in Cambodia. Cambodia Development Center, 2(17), 1-3. https://cd-center.org/en/new-hope-for-a-research-culture-in-cambodia/  

Heng, K. (2020b). Stakeholder collaboration: The key to promoting academic research in Cambodia. Cambodia Development Center, 2(20), 1-5. https://cd-center.org/en/stakeholder-collaboration-the-key-to-promoting-academic-research-in-cambodia/

Heng, K. (2021). Steps to promote academic research in Cambodia. Cambodia Development Center, 3(4), 1-4. https://cd-center.org/en/steps-to-promote-academic-research-in-cambodia/

Kwok, K.-W., Chan, S., Heng, C., Kim, S., Neth, B., & Thon, V. (2010). Scoping study: Research capacities of Cambodia’s universities. The Development Research Forum in Cambodia. https://cdri.org.kh/wp-content/uploads/sr5ae.pdf

MoEYS. (2019). Education Strategic Plan 2019-2023. Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. https://www.moeys.gov.kh/index.php/en/policies-and-strategies/3206.html#.YHBsAOgzbIU

Un, L., Hem, B., & Seng, S. (2017). Academic promotion of higher education teaching personnel in Cambodia. In L. Wang & W. Teter (Eds.), Recalibrating careers in academia: Professional advancement policies and practices in Asia-Pacific (pp. 41–72). UNESCO. https://bangkok.unesco.org/content/recalibrating-careers-academia-professional-advancement-policies-and-practices-asia-pacific

Citation

Heng, K., Sol, K., Kaing, S., & Ros, V. (2021). Introduction: Engaging and supporting Cambodian youth to write for publication in English. In K. Sol, K. Heng, S. Kaing, & V. Ros (Eds.), Cambodian youth’s perspectives and reflections on contemporary educational issues and the role of education (pp. 1-8). Phnom Penh: Cambodian Education Forum. 

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