Last Saturday, we wrapped the pilot of Coding Cats in Phnom Penh Cambodia – offering free coding classes to 100 Cambodian youth – with a graduation party at Raintree Cambodia, where we celebrated the journeys of the teenagers who embarked on this adventure with us! Our journey began in March when we handpicked 15 Cambodians change-makers who were passionate about kids and education, trained them in Saturday Kids pedagogy, and worked together to craft a curriculum that would get Cambodian teenagers curious and excited about the potential of technology as creators.
Over 60% of them hadn’t used a computer before, few of them had prior exposure to coding, and we were astonished to find out that one of them travelled from her province, 1.5 hours from the city to get to class (which began at 8.30am) every Saturday morning. Given all this, we couldn’t be prouder of the students who graduated from the programme with creative Scratch projects they made, well, from Scratch; many of the other participants found it difficult to juggle multiple commitments and extra classes, which only underscores the point that kids everywhere are over-scheduled.
At the graduation party, instructor Kosoma – who also manages Communications at Impact Hub Phnom Penh – gave an impassioned speech about the challenges she experienced as a child growing up in Cambodia, and about the need to keep kids curious. Her story reminded us why we do what we do – we think it might resonate with you too, and so we’re sharing her words here:
“As a student, there are 3 main challenges I faced that perhaps also represent the challenges faced by other students in Cambodia, and that we hoped to address through Coding Cats:
Curiosity is stopped at childhood.
When I was young, I was known as a curious kid who always asked a lot of questions. However, the most common answer I’d get from my parents was “You are so young. You don’t have to know this yet. When you grow up, you will learn.”
So eventually I stopped asking; I stopped being curious, and I stopped trying to find the answers – because I expected that I would know them one day.
Right now, I have a nephew – also a curious 4 year old kid! When my sister’s busy, I often hear her respond to him, “Vong Vong (that’s his name)! Mom is busy. Can you stop asking?” This might sound a little rude in English but it comes across pretty typically in Khmer, I guess because we hear these sentences often from our parents. Personally, I think these are the little things we don’t notice every day that kill the curiosity of our kids.
Equating grades with success.
When I was young, my mom promised that if my grades were within the top 5 in my class, she would get me a pencil case. It was considered fancy to own one back then!
I didn’t care about why I really needed to study – I studied for my pencil case, and then for a fancy bag, a trendy pair of shoes, and a bicycle. To my parents, being within the top 5 in my class meant success in life; to me, being within the top 5 in my class meant winning a fancy pencil case.
Moving through the system without direction.
This mindset I learned led me to perceive the goal of education in differently, shaped by our education system.
I was expected to progress from Grade 1 to Grade 2, to pass the big standardised test in Grade 9 to jump into Grade 12, and then apply to university straight away – despite not knowing what I wanted to study.
Because of these social pressures and expectations, I’d told myself to just study first, and so the cycle continued.
In my country, the education system is about moving from teacher to teacher, from one subject to another, from Grade 1 to Grade 2; it doesn’t seem to give students the chance or space to get to know themselves, try something new, be curious and creative, or choose the path they want. But I believe it’s these experiences that will teach children the practical and essential skills they need to solve the world’s problems.
Learning to code aside, through Coding Cats we’re teaching students to respond to these challenges, through developing the courage to try new things, critical thinking, and creativity and imagination.”
What’s education for? At Saturday Kids, we believe education should enable kids to dream bigger, connect the dots, and make the world a better place, and with the help of our awesome team of Papa and Mama Cats – Thearith, Bunrong, Arky, Dalya, Thyka, Kama, Voneat, Rithykol, Ladang, Vantharith, Cheangy, Rasmey, Manith, Sovichet, and Kosoma – and the support of our partner Raintree Cambodia and funder Development Innovations, we’re hopeful that we’ve taken baby steps towards doing just that.
This is just the start of Saturday Kids’ digital literacy adventure in Cambodia to cultivate kids’ problem-solving, creative, and critical thinking skills through coding! Curious about what’s next? Stay tuned for more stories and updates coming soon, and check out our previous postcard about what learned during our previous recce fieldtrip to Phnom Penh.