Edemy brings online content to an offline world in Cambodia

  • Aims to offer quality English education to rural Cambodians
  • Uses Raspberry Pi to connects students to learning materials

Edemy brings online content to an offline world in Cambodia

MOST of us take for granted that we can connect to the Internet anytime and everywhere. If you are a student with a question in mind, Google is just a short click away on our smartphones, laptops or tablets.
However, in rural Cambodia, it is a completely different reality. Here, internet connectivity is expensive and completely not reliable. Education is widely seen as the means to improve one’s social standing but intakes are limited as there are not enough high proficiency teachers to go around.
Aiming to solve this long standing problem is Chea Kagnarith (pic), a social entrepreneur on a mission to offer quality English education to all regardless of their income and background.
Chea was sharing his experience as a social entrepreneur during the recently concluded  Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Academy Symposium in Cyberjaya where 2,000 aspiring entrepreneurs, startups, social entrepreneurs assembled to network, exchange ideas and learn from one another during the four day event.
Having spent 12 years as an English teacher, Chea wanted to impact the community by way of improving the quality of English education.
“To be honest after I came back from studying in the United States, it did not cross my mind to engage in social entrepreneurship. I just wanted to do something that was impactful for the community,” the Edemy co-founder and managing director admitted.
“I was inspired to start Edemy after reading about enterprises like Grameen Bank and thought that I should use my knowledge as an English educator to figure out a way to provide a platform for disadvantaged people.”
While promoting the Fulbright Scholarship across Cambodia, he found that students eager to further their studies were stymied by the lack of capable teachers to teach them advanced subjects.
Elaborating, Chea explains that teachers who teach Grade 12 don't comprehend much of the content in this level. “In one of the schools I work with, among all 37 teachers, 31 do not meet the qualification for teaching in high school. Eight teachers are Level C (certified for primary school teaching, Grade 1-6), 23 teachers are Level B (certified for junior high school teaching, Grade 7-9) and six teachers are Level A (certified for high school teaching, Grade 10-12).”
Costly internet access a hurdle
In trying to solve this problem, Chea started experimenting with a variety of different technologies to create a comprehensive English programme that would run as extra class outside of school hours. But he quickly ran into some roadblocks.
“I experimented with the idea of using a pure online learning model but soon realised that the cost of an internet line in Cambodia was too expensive. I would easily be paying US$105 to get between 10 to 15 students online,” he said
“Even if we could afford the Internet connection, students still would not be able to stream the video content as the speeds were too slow and unreliable.”
It was back to the drawing board for him as he sought a solution to overcome poor Internet connectivity and limited resources. He knew he had to find a way to bring online content to an offline world.
Fortunately, the answer came to him in 2012 when he read about the inexpensive credit card sized Raspberry Pi which cost only US$30 per unit. “I asked a few IT savvy friends if a Raspberry Pi board could be used as a server and we soon ran stress tests to see how many devices could connect to it.”
The original version of the Raspberry Pi allowed up to 20 devices access to his platform. With the second version the performance was doubled, getting up to 30 devices to connect to a single unit.
“We normally rent a room and set up a Raspberry Pi. The students would come in after their school hours to attend classes three times a week and log on to our platform hosted over a WiFi network using their own smartphones,” he explained.
Students would then open up a web browser to log into Edemy’s system where they can see all the learning content including quizzes and video lessons.
Unlike most full online courses, Edemy’s approach incorporates human interaction with a local teacher or facilitator that the students meet twice a week to discuss the lessons learned.
Taking things one step at a time
Though Edemy’s programme are largely centred around English, it ran a small pilot study with some Grade 12 final year high school students with some surprising results. The students formed groups on their own to solve problems in other subjects such as maths, physics and chemistry before they watched the lesson videos.
“That was quite surprising for me as I didn’t expect to nurture that kind of structure and to have it come off organically was amazing,” said Chea.
Still, he wants to take it one step at a time. “We still need a lot of funding and don’t want to jump into areas we have no idea how to make sustainable yet,” he says, aware of the challenge in meeting the demand for quality teachers in rural areas.
“We want to be able to franchise our solution where a teacher can incorporate our curriculum technology into their classroom. This would benefit them as it would cut down their teaching time by 50% and they would be able to deliver instructions to a wider number of students,” he added.
Pushing his Raspberry Pi based teaching platform to rural Cambodia, Chea, is hoping the combination of a cheap computing platform plus increasing smartphone adoption can start addressing the teaching problem faced in his country.
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