Efforts are being made to boost STEM education across the Kingdom. Editor Marissa Carruthers meets founder of STEM Phnom Penh, Leo Jofeh, to see how he is helping the efforts. Photography by Enric Català.
What is STEM?
STEM is the abbreviation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Many people would add an A for Arts, making STEAM. This addition reflects the fact that these subjects may be important in a utilitarian sense, but they also inspire passion and creativity.
Tell us more about STEM Phnom Penh?
STEM Phnom Penh was set up two years ago to help individuals, businesses and schools explore the possibilities of these subjects. We provide training and tuition, consulting and exciting products such as robots and electronics, all designed and made here in Cambodia. We have also recently branched out into process automation solutions and training for commerce and light industry.
What benefits does STEM Phnom Penh bring to Cambodia?
Ultimately businesses and schools want to develop staff and students who are motivated and skilful learners. We believe that the key to effective teaching and training is to create an engaging and rewarding learning experience. Cambodia needs a new generation with excellent STEM skills in order to compete internationally – we want to help out with that.
There has been government push for STEM to be taught in schools. Why is it important?
The government recognises that STEM is of great importance if Cambodia is to develop further and compete internationally. People with STEM skills are in huge demand the world over as productive employees, but perhaps more importantly as entrepreneurs and technologists, who in turn create employment.
What is your background?
I’m originally from South Wales in the UK, but moved to Cambodia four years ago. Although I currently focus on robotics and electronics, my academic background is in physics and complex systems simulation – these are still my favourite subjects to explore as a teacher.
Can you explain more about robotics?
Educational robots are small, tough, friendly robots designed to be used in the classroom. The point is to take complex, abstract subjects such as coding or programming and turn them into playful, practical learning experiences for students. A typical learning experience might be teaching a robot how to complete a maze or to mimic an animal. Students grasp the point very quickly, have great fun interacting with and teaching the robot, and build a strong base of understanding in coding without realising it. The robots can be taught in many coding languages, so one teaching resource can be used for multiple topics, and age groups, with ease.
What is 3D printing and how is it evolving in Cambodia?
3D printing is a technology for rapidly creating small plastic objects from 3D designs on a computer. It’s getting cheaper, faster and better in quality all the time, and it has been available here in the Kingdom for a few years already.
We use 3D printing in the classroom and in training, building valuable experience with CNC machinery for students, and inspiring them to make imaginative use of 3D modelling software. It fits in perfectly with concepts in STEM curricula, and can bridge the gap between ITC, materials science and design.
How have students reacted?
You should ask them. But I see students engaging with concepts and asking intelligent questions, debating their ideas, and building the ability to learn for themselves during our many sessions.
STEM subjects are unusual – they’re broad and deep, practical and abstract, complex and clear, definite and creative. The right tool or technique can make a massive difference to students’ understanding in teaching or training.
How do you see this area developing in Cambodia?
Explosively. We already know about the focus that government and non-governmental organisations have brought to bear on STEM in recent years, and this focus will inevitably be mirrored by businesses as Cambodia’s economy transitions to high-tech fields.
Demand for STEM skills is rising rapidly, and we need to think beyond simply adding money – we need to find effective ways to develop these skills and promote motivated learning throughout formal education and into the workplace.
If you run a business, what actions are you taking to help your staff upgrade their skills? If you run a school, how are you making sure your teachers are enabled to get the best out of your students? Cambodia must work to differentiate itself from the crowd.
What does the future hold for STEM Phnom Penh?
We will work to create better learning experiences for students in teaching and training. We are also working to create affordable automation solutions for businesses interested in improving quality, reducing process and downtime, and developing their staff’s skillsets.