Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Despite Increased Enrollments Cambodia Lags Behind in STEM

An IT worker uses his computer at an office in Phnom Penh, Picture taken 22, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
An IT worker uses his computer at an office in Phnom Penh, Picture taken 22, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

More Cambodian university students are doing degrees in computer science and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data shows, but the country still remains underprepared to compete in the 4th industrial revolution and digital economy.

The education ministry is trying to promote these areas of study from primary school upwards but, despite a small increase, a recent report found that at the tertiary level in 2019 only 7.7 percent of Cambodians were enrolled in IT courses and 25.5 percent in STEM.

And, as in many other parts of the world, enrolment in these majors saw a large gender gap, according to the Digital Skills Assessment Report by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute and Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology, as “females accounted for about 16 percent of the total enrolment.”

Rous Soveacha, spokesman for the Ministry of Education told CamboJA that there are now eleven “new generation schools” nationwide that use a more innovative curriculum. He added that the Ministry is also trying to “promote gender equality in STEM learning.”

Rith Sovandalin, 18, also wants to inspire more women to get involved in tech and started a project called Code for Girls last month. It provides free online training to women, especially those living in rural areas who are not exposed to the subject.

So far, the Year-Twelve student has trained 30 women, and says  she’s had to counter stereotypes about coding, which “many immediately think of as a male thing, when of course it’s not.”

‘’To me personally I think coding as well as majors related to STEM have a significantly important role in developing our economy as now everything is becoming digital based,” she said.

Two university students majoring in STEM and IT at the Royal University of Phnom Penh told CamboJA they are optimistic they’ll get jobs in their fields after graduating.

‘’A high demand for this profession in the current job market is a crucial factor that pushed me to pursue it in higher education,” said Neang Saosovichea.

Two men work on their computers at an office in Phnom Penh, Picture taken December 22, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang.

Khun Virak, also in his final year of an IT degree, concurred, saying “The most interesting thing about this major is that it allows us to work on something really new.”

According to the report the demand for IT and other skills will rise to 45 percent next year, with software developers and analysts, base and network professionals, and user support technicians likely among the most sought after workers. 

However, Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation warned in another report that a lack of human and technical resources, as well as money — with less than 2.6 percent of Cambodia’s GDP going towards education  — means ‘’Cambodia is not ready for the digital economy.”

‘’To prepare the new Cambodian generations for the digital economic transition, Cambodia must perform a transition from their classical educational curriculum to an education 4.0, taking advantage of the example of other countries that have already embarked on this process,” it said.

Daniel Schmücking, the foundation’s country director, told CamboJA that although digital skills are essential for future workers, there are other types of skills necessary for the digital transformation of a country’s economy, including cognitive and soft skills.

‘’These types of skills perform a significant role in helping workers to be more flexible for the job transformation,” he noted.