Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. On Dec. 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, in China’s Hubei province. The virus did not match any other known virus.

On Feb. 28, the WHO stated that its risk assessment worldwide for the coronavirus was now “very high.” On March 11, the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) was declared a pandemic by the WHO. More than a third of humanity are under some form of lockdown.

On Jan. 27, the first new case of Covid-19 was reported in Cambodia. On March 14, the Education Ministry published an article declaring that it would have to shut down all educational institutes in Phnom Penh for a while until further notice. On March 16, the closure of educational institutions was expanded nationwide.

Tackling the problem of the pandemic’s transmission, some schools and institutions, including the public sector, introduced an online learning platform that didn’t require students to physically attend class.

Online classrooms are in many ways a new platform in the Kingdom of Cambodia, even though it is widely practiced in some developed countries. Talking about online study: What are the advantages and limitations?

Meth Sokcheanich, who is a government official at the Commerce Ministry, told me that after the instruction to close educational institutions, the private school his son attends called him to inform him about their alternative solution of online classes to protect students from the risk of Covid-19 as well as to follow the ministry’s advice on physical distancing.

He expressed positive feedback on the online learning platform, that it is easy (simple), safe (it keeps his son from being infected by other diseases), and it is low-cost. He doesn’t need to pay for transportation fees, his son can learn from anywhere, and he has more time to support his son’s learning. However, there are some disadvantages he has noticed, including less efficiency and less detailed follow-up from the school; a higher chance of cheating by students, especially during exams; a lack of social relations; negative impact on children’s health from using electronic devices, including eye problems and possibly their mental health; students do not respect the rules and regulations of the school; waste of electricity; and students seem to be idle and more lazy compared to physical attendance.

Sokcheanich suggested that the online study should continue even after the pandemic situation returns to normal. However, face-to-face and online learning should be weighed and done together because online learning is widely open and simple but it doesn’t have real practice, and students’ physical exercise is hardly included.

Nget Moses, who is an independent professional, spoke on June 13 during the Open Cyber Talk 2020 on Cyber for Justice that he had encountered many difficulties in monitoring his children studying at home because his enrolled school requires parents and guardians to mediate the telecommunications between teachers and students. Before the start of the class, the school sent a link to his account on his phone, and he had to forward that link from his phone to his children’s devices. Unfortunately, sometimes the study was cut off and he needed to communicate with the school again to ask for the link and password.

Moses took the opportunity to provide recommendations to parents that children’s electronic study devices should be set with a parent administrator control including limiting the hours of use. If possible, set a screen monitor to check what programs were used and how long children stayed on those programs. But he also encouraged people to use technology and online platforms. He said that working from home is a significant stage of changing our people’s habits toward technological literacy.   

Chi Sophat, who is an independent professional, was another speaker at the Open Cyber Talk 2020 on Cyber for Justice, on June 13, and also noticed that online learning platforms are booming during the pandemic situation. It is a good thing that online education starts to grow while Cambodia is facing the challenge of Covid-19, he added. 

Him Sopheak, who is an official at the Department of Education in Phnom Penh, said that for online studies, students faced some challenges including limited internet speeds, adapting to the new platform, spending more money on new devices (phone, tablet or computer), and they need more money to pay for the internet etc., especially students who live in the countryside.

However, officials from the ministry and provincial departments, including teachers, have been to students’ homes to provide instructions on the use of Google Classroom and other platforms, disseminate the learning schedule posted by the ministry, and to encourage guardians to collaborate with teachers by reminding their kids about the schedule and assisting them in logging into the classroom. He also said teachers were well trained on the adopted ministry online platform, even though some teachers have limited IT skills.

Sopheak said the ministry will continue online education even when the pandemic situation returns to normal, because the Education Ministry had discussed and asked for support from various stakeholders for e-learning even before the outbreak of the COVID-19.

According to the ministry, the department of information technology signed an MoU with ChildFund Cambodia to provide a digital education system to rural schools to enable rural children to benefit from the modern technology for their learning. The project not only ensures the continuation of students’ studies during the outbreak of Covid-19, but also helps schools in rural areas prepare themselves for future evolutions in technology.