What are some of the most common challenges to STEM Education in the region?

By Ravy Sophearoth

March 1, 2018 PHNOM PENH — The YSEALI STEM Education Regional Workshop officially opened on February 28th, 2018, with participation from H.E. Dr. Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport of the Royal Cambodian government, Ambassador William A. Heidt, US Ambassador to Cambodia, guests, mentors, speakers and most importantly the 50-enthusiastic young Southeast Asian leaders from across ASEAN.

To set the stage for the workshop, a presentation on the importance of STEM Education, perspectives from the US and Southeast Asia was featured. The participants also had a chance to take part in a series of parallel sessions on leadership, innovation, collaboration and communication, skills that are important for the promotion of STEM Education in their communities. The highlight of the day was a River Cruise on the Mekong River where the participants had a chance to get to know each other for the first time.

Group Photo at the Opening of the YSEALI STEM Education Regional Workshop

The second day focused on STEM skill gaps, women in STEM fields, a visit to the Cambodia’s Toul Sleng Genocide museum to learn about utilizing STEM in preserving victims’ belongings and a networking dinner with startup companies in Cambodia.

A panel of participants from Brunei, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam shared their personal views about STEM skill gaps in their countries. Two of the most common challenges shared by the panelists were the lack of STEM professionals and the conventional teaching method which does not necessarily prepare students for the modern, tech-savvy employment market.

As part of exposing participants to a different way of learning STEM, a group of students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s department of Computer Science showcased their robotics exhibition at the workshop. The exhibition allowed for participants to personally play with the robots developed by Cambodian students. In addition, Ms. Sophie Nop, a Fulbright Student Researcher, hosted a session to demonstrate recent STEM innovation from around the world and how to learn STEM using low-cost technology. The participants had an opportunity to interact with Ms. Sophie’s tools using Makey Makey technology.

YSEALI Participants Enjoyed Experimenting with Makey Makey Technology

Five women STEM professionals, including a microbiologist and a computer scientist, met with the participants to share their personal experience working in the STEM fields. “I also enjoyed playing tech toys, games and especially I got a chance to talk to one of women STEM professionals, Dr. Lori Newman. She told me how she started her career in STEM and the challenges she faced. I am so impressed,” said Namon Vat, a Cambodian participant.

Participants also got a chance to visit Cambodia’s Toul Sleng Genocide Museum to learn about Cambodia’s tragic history where almost two million people were killed during a civil war and how this history has shaped Cambodia today. The visit also aimed to show the participants an effort to preserve the victims’ belongings, specifically victims’ textiles, using technology which is also supported by the US Embassy in Cambodia.

The day ended with a networking dinner with some Cambodian startup companies to introduce the participants to Cambodia’s emerging and fast-growing technology ecosystem.