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Young Cambodians coding their way to future careers


29 January 2015




They may not own computers or know how to blog or tweet yet but learning computer programming may help many Cambodian children find their way into future careers.

"We want these kids to have transferable, 21st century skills that will give them financial independence," said Dr Tara Murphy from the School of Physics at the University of Sydney.

Dr Murphy and her colleague, Associate Professor James Curran from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies are working with the Cambodian Children's Trust (CCT) to help make that a reality.

The academics are adapting their tailored program, the National Computer Science School Challenge, which currently teaches Australian teenagers the necessary computing skills to analyse science.

"In Australia there is a renewed emphasis on teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills. Our approach is to do that as accessibly as possible, using contexts such as The Lord of the Rings or blogging, whatever Australian teenagers relate to," said Dr Murphy.

Cambodian Children's Trust emphasises using local people to make their programs both culturally appropriate and, ultimately, self-sufficient. Local teachers and interpreters are already involved in this project.

"We've just completed a pilot program in Cambodia with Year 10 students, primary school children and their teachers. Most of them have no computer training and many of them don't have a computer so we were very impressed with how well they picked up the concepts and logical thinking needed to complete courses using programming languages," said Dr Murphy.

"It gave us the insights and confidence to adapt our program for a full-year curriculum to be taught this year to high school students and adapted for primary school students."

The partnership came about when Tara Winkler, the director of the CCT approached Dr Murphy. Ms Winkler established the organisation in Battambang in North-West Cambodia in 2007, to educate and support Cambodian children.

Among Ms Winkler's achievements, recognised with the NSW Young Australian of the Year award in 2011, is training young people to run a financially independent restaurant and art gallery in Cambodia.

"We are honoured to have the support of the University of Sydney to launch CCT's STEM education program. After seeing the success of the initial trial, I am so excited about the potential for this project to open doors and create life-changing opportunities for Cambodia's youth," said Ms Winkler.

The Australian enterprise software company Atlassian is also supporting the program by funding a teacher.

The ultimate aim of the project is to create a computer lab that the trained computer programmers could operate from as freelancers.

"We are starting small but aiming high," Dr Murphy said.


 

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