Do or did you study at university by your mother tongue? If it’s so, you are very lucky one. In Cambodia, most of the academic studies need English skills because they have only a little information written in Cambodian language.
Furthermore, they are required to use English for business, because the number of tourists from overseas is increasing and many foreign companies have flown into Cambodia these days. And if they cannot use English, they may have a difficulty to get high salary there. However, the quality of English education is not sufficient in the most of the areas in Cambodia.
In order to solve such difficulties, some people start to stand up. Ms. Sovan Srun is one of the Cambodian entrepreneur, who started to provide high-quality and affordable English education to Cambodia via a social enterprise, “Edemy”. She is hanging up to provide equal education for all people in Cambodia. What experience made her go into this path?
Azumi: First, could you explain what Edemy do?
Sovan: Edemy is a social enterprise in Cambodia that provides high-quality after-school English education through a blended model of learning and offline technology.
There are two types of targets for Edemy.
First targets are the students who eager to study English but cannot get opportunities to receive good English education, mainly in rural areas. The problem about English education in rural areas is that the teachers don’t have enough skills and training to teach high-level English. Also, in some cases, even if they have good skills, they go out of the rural areas for seeking higher salary or for their own career development. So the students have no choice but rely on the same unqualified teachers for their English education. On the other hand, there are a lot of international school or English schools mainly founded by foreign institutions in Phnom Penh. However, for example, some schools provide service at a charge of $ 5 or more per hour. Such cost of the services is too high for middle or poor households to gain their service.
Second targets are the English teachers who lack high-level English teaching skills. By training those teachers to replicate Edemy’s model, we hope to help to fill a gap in education so students even those in the most remote area can get quality education.
I think there are other ways to provide education for people such as by translating some foreign articles into Cambodia, so why do you focus on English?
Because we believe that students can get more opportunity by learning English both for their academic and career pursuit.
However, most of the distinguished teachers are in Phnom Penh while 70% of students are in rural areas and cannot connect with good English education. And also, when the students want to learn more specialized knowledge such as engineering, they need to understand English since most of the journals and textbooks are written in English. I’ve seen students who are inspiring and hard-working but faced an obstacle in their study because of their low English proficiency.
By what means do you provide the service?
Mainly, our service consists of learning with technology and learning face to face with a teacher. Both forms of learning are fully integrated into our curriculum. For example, on Monday students would watch video explanation on Present Perfect and do many many exercises in our software, then on Tuesday, they would practice the use of Present Perfect in speaking activities in the class.
For our technology, we take the online learning offline by using a device called ‘‘Raspberry Pi’’. It is like a mini computer and server, in which we install software. We equip each classroom with low-cost tablets (Amazon Kindle Fire) for students to access our learning platform from the Raspberry Pi. It is a very cheap system, so really suit for our teaching program.
Actually, we used the online system when we just started Edemy, but there are lots of problems to use the online system. When we connect many devices to the internet at the same time, the internet goes very slow, and in some places, especially in rural areas, it is difficult to connect the internet. And also, the use of the internet for a long time is so expensive that we would have to set the high price for our service. So we stopped using the internet for teaching and started to use Raspberry Pi.
It sounds like Edemy’s service can be very expensive, but how much do the students have to pay for this service?
Now the price for our service is up to the number of students in a class. If there are many students, we charge only $5 per month but if there are only a few students, we may have to charge $8 so as to cover our technology cost. But, our goal is to provide high-quality and equality English education only $5 per month for everyone. In order to sustain our project, we have started up new long-run technology. We just hire teachers from IFL (Institute of Foreign Languages) to create a curriculum and videos, and those products can be used many times. Therefore, our model has a high potential for scaling and only by scaling can it be sustained.
What future do you want to make through Edemy?
Currently, we have only one workplace in Phnom Penh since Edemy is still at its early stage, but our goal is to provide high-quality English education for all, so we want to spread our work to rural areas and to other countries as well. We believe Edemy’s blended education model is the solution for the lack of quality education in areas where resources are scarce. Of course, in order to adapt our service to other countries, the curriculum shall be localized and updated accordingly.
Now the world is more and more globalized, and nowadays English is more important than before, as you can see people in Singapore are required to use English as an official language. We believe that the chance should be given to the ones who have the will to learn, and we want to build ‘‘a platform’’ for them. We will be happy if learning English through Edemy allow the students to improve themselves and life of them.
Then, what do you want your students to be in the future by learning in Edemy?
I want the students to be the responsible citizen. I mean the ones who are independent, able to think critically and to be able to make impact in the area they are passionate about. Because bringing up such people makes our world more developed. And I hope they could develop lifelong learning skills because I think there is no ceiling to how much you could learn.
What is the motivation which makes you engaged in Edemy’s work?
First of all, I noticed the issue that rural areas are in short of high-quality English education when I was working as a volunteer in some associations, in particular with the Fulbright and Undergraduate State Alumni Association of Cambodia, during my undergraduate at IFL. I engaged in volunteer works because I just loved them. I like working with other peoples to help community prosperity. Volunteering is kind of hobbies for me. And more, I was able to learn a lot of things, get many experiences and improve my own skills through the activities.
There, I know that many students faced the difficulties caused by insufficient English skill. At Edemy, we are finding the solution to the problem. I think we are almost there. Of course, there are many challenges along the way. But we believe in our mission and would try our best to solve them.
While there are many students who have difficulty with English under such situations, you are really good English speaker. I am interested in the reason why you were able to improve your own English skill enough to found Edemy.
To tell the truth, my mother was very strict in my childhood. She didn’t allow me to watch TV after dinner and made me read lots of books not only Cambodian books but also English books. When I was a child, I was so sad that I couldn’t watch TV program that my friends like to watch. But thanks to my mother, I got used to reading books and really enjoyed them. By keeping on reading books since when I was a child, I can read both Cambodian language and English easily. My mom really pushed me to start learning English since young age. And I think that I may be inspired by my father as well. Back during the UNTAC era, my dad taught English part-time. His dream was to visit the U.S. So I have understood the importance of English from my young age. Of course, I was too young to think about everything then. Also, after I graduated the high school, I entered IFL (Institute of Foreign Languages) and learn more high-level English. I could get a scholarship for the one-year exchange student in the U.S. while I was an undergraduate.
Lastly, please some comment for readers!
I think the important thing to pave your ways to improve yourselves is, to believe in your ability and to do what you want to do, but you would need to put in effort. And even though it takes a little longer time for you than for others to achieve something, don’t compare yourself to other people because everyone is different.
Sovan Srun, Co-founder of Edemy
Sovan Srun graduated from Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL) in Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies. During being at RUPP, she went to study at the University of Southern Indiana as an exchange student. After that, she got Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), Global Social Sustainable Enterprise Program at Colorado State University.
She launched Edemy with her co-founder Kagnarith Chea who also works as a managing director in Edemy. It is a service to provide equal and high-quality English education for all. For students seeking accessible service or parents who would like to make children study good English at a low cost, Edemy must be the best way. Check it out now!
Ms. Sovan is a very cheerful and friendly person. During the interview, she willingly and patiently answered my any questions. I’m sure that students in Edemy must like her because of her character. However, when I was talking with her, I realized she is a person who has strong passion for this project. All of her words are straight and clear, which may show her settled faith as a founder of Edemy. I believe that Edemy will grow bigger and bigger, and enable the young people to fly away with their will in the future.
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