Keeping the Doors of Learning Open

As the COVID-19 pandemic strikes in Cambodia, the Skills Development Programme (SDP) has taken some of its courses to virtual classrooms. Other collaborative workflows that were previously performed with partners and mostly face-to-face, are now taken online as well. Even though information technology (IT) literacy and accessibility remain a challenge for most Cambodians, this crisis is an opportunity that encourages us to adopt virtual connectivity.

In classes: participants from the hospitality in-house training share their experience during this hard time

Thongdy Prom, 39, runs a small restaurant in Preah Vihear Province. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was forced to temporarily close her business, causing her family to lose all income. She is feeling scared and worried. On the bright side, she can still participate on the cooking course she enrolled for more productively.

“I can still keep in touch with my classmates and teachers. I can use this free time to stay at home and to continue my cooking class via e-learning. I have learned how to make Khmer and Western food, and discovered new ingredients,” said Thongdy.

In the programme: knowledge sharing and capacity building sessions that do not stop

Reaksmey Thy is an Intervention Manager with SDP in Cambodia. With his intervention team, he has been regularly carrying out knowledge sharing and capacity building sessions during their bi-monthly team meetings. Now that they cannot physically meet, he decided to carry out these activities online to continue learning and to keep the spirit of the team alive despite the distance. They use Skype for this purpose.

Reaksmey and his team always chose a specific topic, and each team member is responsible to prepare a short input on a subtopic. This time the topic was “the Power of Planning”. In addition to a general input on the importance of planning, the team spoke about strategic planning, operational planning, tactical planning, and contingency planning – the last one being an important topic to tackle work during the pandemic!

In collaboration: TVET School Strategic Plan Training in action

SDP has been supporting Provincial Training Centres (PTC) in three remote provinces of Cambodia during the last 4 years. In the second phase starting in July, this support will be intensified. SDP and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) are collaborating to deliver a training for the PTCs to develop their own 5-year strategic TVET School Development Plan based on their current resources with a goal, vision, and mission.

Before COVID-19 broke out, capacity development courses on school development were planned to take place face-to-face with management teams from all PTCs, other training institutes and MoLVT representatives. The training was designed and to be delivered by an international expert.

Under current circumstances, the SDP team was forced to become more innovative: the training is now conducted through Skype. There are one host and two translators (one interprets from English to Khmer, and another vice-versa). All participants connect on Skype, while the non-Cambodian participants listen to the simultaneous interpretation through an audio call on Messenger. The training is going on, 5-year Strategic TVET School Development Plans are under way.

Chanthou Hout, is a Vice-Chief Officer of the Department of Standards and Curriculum (DSC) at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. His role is to overall coordinate the DSC’s work with PTCs and hence he works closely with the SDP team. Many of Mr. Chanthou’s workplans and activities have been cancelled and postponed, and he cannot communicate with his team as usual. With no other choices, Chanthou turns online and improves his digital skills.

In addition to online collaboration being very quick, he sees the advantages of cost effectiveness. Like many others, he has been struggling with connectivity problems, but has made great progress on learning how to work with Zoom and other software. “I will apply these new skills to my career and personal life to work with relevant people whom I cannot meet in person. I might even start using online platforms in our family business.” Mr. Chanthou thinks that working online is effective for discussions or meetings, but in his opinion, it does not work well for coaching and mentoring work, “At personal level, online tools cannot replace face-to-face interactions.”

On Monitoring and Result Measurement: remote supporting

The heart of each project is keeping track of results and changes. Our teams need to interact with training providers, beneficiaries, Government actors and people from the private sector to understand whether the intended goals of SDP are reached.

The project relies on a sophisticated database, in which information is continuously stored and used to monitor the outcomes. The Monitoring and Results Measurement team works with the Focal Persons for data entry in each partnering training institute to track the activity and support them when they encounter software errors or challenges in entering data.   

For this purpose, face-to-face training sessions were held regularly. But now, the capacity building needs to take place remotely using applications such as Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Skype. SDP database is online. This means, changes can be seen by everyone and we can live-track the entry of information. Problems are solved faster now. The MRM team just shares their screens through one of the communication software we use and show our partners how to address the challenges they are encountering. Everyone feels safer this way.

Chap Sokumthea, 27, is responsible for data entry at the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Technical Education Centre (CJFTEC) in Siem Reap. She said, “working from home is quite different because I cannot have meetings with my co-workers regularly like before, and the internet is slow.” However, she added that she also learned so much, “I never used these applications before, but during this crisis I have learned about many additional features in Skype and in Telegram. That’s very useful!”