Last month students woke up to a new “virtual” reality. Since Cambodia suspended classes due to the Covid-19 outbreak, educators and teachers alike have had their daily patterns disrupted.

Many teachers are grappling with the same challenges as their pupils.

They wonder how best to engage with students, whether the tools at their disposal are adequate, if they are getting results and, most crucially, whether the classroom will ever be the same again.

Srun Sovan, co-founder of local digital learning platform Edemy, told The Post that, despite growing pains, “e-learning is here to stay”.

Her company is responding to the pandemic by supplying educators and students with the Tesdopi app.

According to Sovan, despite growing numbers of the rural population having smartphones, the main challenge is network access.

“Through my experience in travelling to the countryside for workshops, access to smartphones is considerable – with that number increasing among high-school students.

“I think integrating information and communications technology with education helps increase the effectiveness of teaching – it helps teachers stay focused and maximise their interaction with students.

“However, in conventional classrooms, teachers can read students’ body language or ask them questions to ensure that learning objectives are being met,” said Sovan.

Tesdopi addresses this issue by allowing teachers to conduct one-on-one tutoring through teleconferencing. It also provides them with access to metrics that help them address learning gaps.

Since the schools closure began, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has streamed more than 700 lessons for students from primary to high school on its Facebook page.

To incorporate large, remote communities who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, it launched an initiative to promote educational programming on TV stations such as TVK2.

In Cambodia, where smartphones outnumber people and recently overtook television as the most popular medium for news, only around half of rural citizens have regular internet access.

Philip White, principal of Zion International School of Phnom Penh in Russian Market, shared Sovan’s optimism that the current climate was accelerating the digitalisation of the classroom, but he stressed he did not view it as “a solution to improve student engagement”.

Philip White, the principal of Zion International School of Phnom Penh.

“As educators, it is always important to be looking for new ways to enhance our teaching, student learning and parental interaction. Any technology that enables this to happen more efficiently and with added benefits is a definite advantage that progressive schools will want to benefit from, and in fact have actively been seeking for generations. What we are seeing now is just an acceleration of that,” he said.

White, who moved to Cambodia in 2013 after having worked in business development in Canada’s dynamic tech industry, said that after the not-for-profit school suspended classes on March 16, its teachers shifted their in-class experience to the digital realm.

Zion International boasts the only Infini-D Learning Lab in Asia. This innovative technology transforms classrooms into an interactive “spaceship”, tailoring the experience to each teacher’s unique learning objectives.

White stressed that while digitalised experiences like Infini-D can improve students’ classroom engagement, the same cannot be said for distance learning.

“We will continue to find ways to improve the quality of our education and engagement, for our learners and their parents, but I don’t believe that staring at screens all day is the best path forward.

“As long as technology enables educators to facilitate learning and interaction with increased engagement, we will see it find a place in the classroom.

“Many students are doing a great job following along with online classes in good spirits, although everyone misses being at school,” said White.