Solar Pi: Changing Cambodia (2019-2020)

In today’s day and age, technology can be found almost everywhere. It has drastically altered how our human world functions. From near-instantaneous communication to automated machinery, modern technology helps us to complete our daily tasks with ease, whether simple or complex. And with new advances in technology yearly, it continues to become even more efficient and useful. Technology has undeniably improved many aspects of the lives of billions who have access to it. But what of the other billions who do not?

One of the numerous aspects of life that has been made much easier thanks to technology is education. During difficult times such as this global pandemic, and with social distancing guidelines, technology has not only made education around the globe possible but also less of a daunting challenge. Through the use of smartphones and computers, students are able to learn better and in various ways. They have access to a multitude of online educational resources, can virtually connect with a peer or teacher, stay organized, and so much more. Unfortunately, it is a fact that not every single person is lucky enough to get their creative hands on modern technology, especially those who live in developing countries like Cambodia.

In Cambodia, although most people in urban areas have access to technology, many in the countryside, or rural areas that are distant and not populous, do not. Certainly, the number of users is larger by a huge degree than it was a few years ago. However, the world is ever-changing, and some are still unable to experience it. Some may not even be aware of it. For a country to develop and move forward, its people must do so first, so how do we get more people access to technology? During my fourth year at the Liger Leadership Academy, I joined a project and was able to play a role in helping answer that question. That project was Solar Pi.

Solar Pi is a project started in 2016 with the aim of introducing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education into government schools with solar-powered computer labs. Currently, two computer labs have been installed in two small schools, both of which are located in Takeo. With these computer labs, students have access to a variety of computer programs, which they can learn how to use. The Solar Pi team also developed a custom curriculum for students to follow in their computer class. It consists of learning 3 main programs: FreeCAD, a software for 3D design; Scratch, a program for its own block-based visual programming language; and Pencil2D, a software for 2D animation. To assist them in learning the programs, tutorial videos have been made by several Liger students as well.

I joined Solar Pi at the end of my third year at Liger. During my first months, I spent my time learning about the project and helping with basic tasks. Last year (my fourth year), Solar Pi became senior student Vornsar’s Impact Project, and I continued to be a part of it. Over the months, I worked primarily on the technological side of the project, updating the computers, installing new software, fixing technical problems, and organizing the computers for students to effortlessly navigate and use. In addition, I also helped edit the tutorial videos for FreeCAD lessons and went on trips to set up the computer labs.

Every now and then, I think about the students who are using the computer labs we installed, following the curriculum we wrote, and watching the tutorials we made. I remember the trips the team and I took to the two schools we work with in Takeo. I think about the students, the progress they could make, and what they could accomplish with the tools we have given them. It is quite a bit to take in sometimes. It brings me joy knowing that they now have new educational materials to learn from and different resources to work with.

To me, just the thought of changing someone’s life is already huge. Thus, to actually create that impact is truly a great accomplishment. And being a part of Solar Pi has helped make that happen. I was, and still am, extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful project. I look forward to the next time I visit the schools in Takeo, and I cannot wait to see how much the students will have gained from the computer labs we installed.

As of writing this, it has been approximately two months since my fourth school year ended. With the emergence of COVID-19 earlier this year, the world has gone into lockdown. New safety measures such as masks and social distancing guidelines have been put in place, and life has gotten quite hard. It may come as no surprise that many are struggling to get through this pandemic, myself included. 

I went into quarantine around the end of March, about three months before the end of the school year, and still am. I personally find it difficult to stay productive and focused when it comes to schoolwork. Other issues I face include staying motivated and optimistic, having a stable sleep schedule, and in general, being happy. But on the bright side, it has also allowed me to learn more about myself and the world, explore and try new hobbies, and contemplatively reflect on life as well as on my school year at Liger.

The school I go to, the Liger Leadership Academy, like most schools, has closed for safety and has moved to online learning. This change led them to face a number of challenges and to make sure students continue to receive education. It is unfortunate that the class of 2020 has to have their graduation either cancelled, postponed, or happen virtually. As the end of the year is getting closer, schools are trying to reopen while simultaneously being cautious of possible dangers. I believe that life is as hard, if not harder, for teachers as it is for us and that they are trying their best, and for that, I express gratitude to them.

If being at home for over five months has taught me anything about the world, it is that there are more uneducated people than I had previously thought. It is dispiriting but true that some groups of individuals do not believe that COVID-19 exists; hence, they do not protect themselves in any way when they go out in public spaces, endangering not only themselves but others as well. And when they are asked or told to put on a mask, they usually do not do so. To prevent this from possibly happening again, I hope that in the future, people will receive greater education and knowledge.

In spite of all the hardships that took place over the course of my fourth school year, it was definitely one of the greatest years I have had so far during my time here at Liger. Even though I’ve had my ups and downs, when I finally reflected upon the work I completed, it felt quite rewarding. I am also proud of the change that I was able to help make this year, and I am eager for the following years to come. As always, it was another awesome year at Liger.

STEMgineering: A Project for Government School Students – Changing Cambodia (2018-2019)

Cambodia in the past few years, from my perspective, has developed so much. The economy has gotten better, education has improved, and more Cambodians have access to the online world. What I’ve been seeing a lot of and really like is Cambodia and its education involving more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). There have been more STEM festivals and events, giving the opportunity to many people and students to not only learn, but also share. It’s basically a chance for people to put up projects related to either any of the STEM categories for other people to see – a fair as I’d call it.

When a STEM fair takes place, schools that are not too far from it sometimes take the opportunity to send their students there when they have available transportation. That’s great, but what about the schools that don’t or can’t afford transportation or schools that are too far? Not a lot of government schools actually send their students to STEM fairs due to multiple reasons like some already mentioned, so their students are missing out on a lot of great opportunities to learn. The majority of Cambodian children go to government schools, but they, especially those in rural areas, don’t get to learn a lot of STEM. Shouldn’t all schools in Cambodia deserve the chance to learn STEM? A step towards solving that problem was taken in the fourth exploration of my second year at Liger. That exploration was STEMgineering.

Credits: Josh Lowry, our school’s photographer.

The goal of this seven-week project was to get students in government schools more involved in STEM, but it was emphasized on engineering in this exploration. The way we decided to work towards that was to create small, fun projects to show to the students. Those projects would have instructions, in both English and Khmer, on how to make something that is engineering-related. There were things we needed to keep in mind however. The main thing was that we needed to make sure the materials needed to make the product of each small project are Cambodian-friendly which means that it should be very easy to find and get anywhere in the country. Our target students were those between 3rd and 7th grade, those who weren’t too young nor old.

The first two weeks of this project, we spent time on learning engineering before we could make small projects about engineering. We learned about the basics, including but not limited to simple machines and the design process. We split into groups for the first time to try out instructions from a website called Instructables, a website made for people to make and share instructions for making different things. Part of our main goal was to upload the instructions we were going to make onto there. Because it’s such a great resource for STEM projects and other things, we wanted Cambodians to use it too, but the only problem was language. There were barely, or even no, Instructables that were in Khmer, thus our instructions were going to be written in both English and Khmer. We then split up into teams, brainstormed on what product to write instructions for, and started making the products. From 15 students into 5 teams of 3.

My team, after a time of thoughtful and fruitful discussion and brainstorming, decided to make a shooter, a simple, little gadget that can shoot things. And the first time we thought about it, safety was one thing we were concerned with, but we still chose it because we prioritized excitement and engagement above all. We wanted the kids to learn while also having fun, so to do that, we needed to make the workshop as exciting as possible, to get engagement, making them want to take part and falling into the trap of learning. After making a few prototypes of our shooter, we started writing instructions and making more shooters. While that was happening, we also came up with new designs for the shooter and that was because we wanted the kids to get creative as well, decide how they wanted their shooter to look while using the ones we made as models. Writing instructions took the longest because we needed to take pictures, translate it into Khmer, upload it onto Instructables, and print them out for workshops. After all of those things, we were ready to present them to kids in government schools.

To present the projects we created, we picked and went to different schools in Phnom Penh. Each workshop took around 2 hours to complete. The first thing we did when we got to a school was split the students into groups according to the number of projects and started the workshop. The five projects our teams had come up with, finally mentioning, were the PVC pipe trash bin, the popsicle bridge, the slingshot car, the shooter and the mini Ferris wheel. Some projects finished earlier than others and some finished way later. During workshops, we answered the students’ questions and taught them little engineering facts, too.

Me helping two of the students at Bambujaya during the workshop. Credits: Josh Lowry

The first trip was to a private school called Bambujaya. Despite it not being a government school, we still did a workshop there because Liger has done many projects with them in the past and we wanted to expose the students there to STEM, too. Our plans ended up differing due to the fact that the students were very young. We did not do the PVC pipe trash bin project because it wasn’t suitable for them and there were times during the workshop when we needed to get them to engage because they got shy. But apart from that, everything went smoothly and was a success. It made me very happy to see them happy, gaining joy from playing with their creations.

Credits: The facilitator of this exploration, Jakub Kukielka.

The second trip was to a government school. We did the workshop with around 60 fifth-graders and it went almost how we wanted it to. Some teams finished too early and some finished a bit too late with their projects, so that was one of the things we could’ve done better; time-management. The other challenges we faced included managing the whole group of students, communicating with them, and making sure everybody learned. It was my first time leading such many people in an activity and it was quite the task for me. My teammates helped students when they got stuck, answered their questions, and took turns deciding and helping them use tools. We had a lot of fun doing leading the workshop. In spite of all the challenges, the smiles they had when they finished their products made us smile. It was a very rewarding experience to introduce and teach them an almost completely new subject to them. Is this the type of joy teachers get at school? To change peoples’ lives? I’d say this trip was another success.

The STEMgineering exploration was one that was very fun to be a part of and one that was very successful. It helped me understand one of the many problems with the current curriculum of Cambodian government schools and made me think in ways I had never done before. Not only that, but it also created change in the lives of the students of the schools that we went to. To hear laughter and see joy in the faces of the students that took part in the workshops created by us Liger students was an experience that I’ll never forget. I hope that I will get the chance to be part of another exploration like this one again in the future because I immensely enjoyed being a change-maker and temporary teacher.

If you want to make a shooter or any of the things the teams did, you can do so here.

Changing Cambodia (2017-2018)

My second year at the Liger Leadership Academy is going to end really soon, but by the time you’re reading this, it has already ended. Most of the year passed by really quickly. This year at Liger was way different from last year in terms of work and responsibility. I got to be involved in explorations which was something new this year. As some of the seniors mentioned in their blogs, there are five rounds of explorations in each school year and each exploration lasts 7 weeks. My five explorations are Geography Of Cambodia, Liger Wilderness Field Guide, Entrepreneurship, Theater Set Design, and Geography Book Design. All of my explorations has made at least little changes in spite of where the changes took place. Two of my explorations are soon going to really change Cambodia in the following months, before 2018 ends and they are Theater Set Design and Geography Book Design.

At the start of this year, one of the teachers started a project called the Cambodian Geography Book and the name is pretty self-explanatory. The goal of this project was to make a unique and interesting book about the geography of Cambodia for government schools and other people that are interested in learning about Cambodia. The project was divided into seven explorations and I was lucky enough to be in the first one; it was also my first exploration of the year. Our main goal in this exploration was to gather as much information as we can about the central and northern part of Cambodia; these two parts of Cambodia was referred to as region 1. The provinces in this region are Tboung Khmum, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, and Oddar Meanchey. Our exploration was divided into three parts, pre-trip, trip, and post-trip. The pre-trip is the first three weeks, the trip is the week after, and the post-trip is the last three weeks. What we did during the pre-trip was gather information about the five themes of the provinces in our region. The five themes were physical systems, infrastructure, environment and society, location in spatial terms, places and regions. To make it easier to research, we split into groups of 3. Each group was assigned a theme to do research on; my group was assigned the theme physical system. The trip is self-explanatory; we went to the provinces in our region. Our goals for the trip was to experience the geographical highlights of each province and do interviews to get a story of any kind to put into the book. We got more than 27 interviews from the trip and the places that we went to were amazing. After we got back, we did research on the history of each province and made predictions. I’d say that this was a really good first step to making the book. Keep in mind that there are six more explorations related to the Cambodian Geography book, three of them is the same as this one, except that they each focused on a different region of Cambodia and the other three explorations focused entirely on book publication. Continue reading “Changing Cambodia (2017-2018)”