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Education Lagging in Science, Technology, Experts Say

An engineer makes an adjustment to the robot "The Incredible Bionic Man" at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, Oct. 17, 2013.
PHNOM PENH - Experts say the government has not yet done enough to promote the studies of science at the university level, leaving Cambodia behind on technology and other science subjects.

Louise Ahrens, a project coordinator at Maryknoll, a US-based organization that provides education counseling at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer recently that the number of students enrolled in science classes remains low compared to other countries.

More students could be studying physics, biology, chemistry or mathematics, as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction, Ahrens said.

Only about 27 percent of Cambodian students in higher education are pursuing these sciences, while the rest pursue degrees in social science, according to research by the Cambodian Development Research Institute. That’s compared to Indonesia, 33 percent; Malaysia, 45; and Singapore, 53.

CDRI’s research shows that most higher education institutions, particularly private universities, do not focus on skills and quality to meet market demand, especially investments in science and research.

That could leave Cambodia less competitive than its neighbors when Asean economically integrates, in 2015, Ahrens said. “Cambodia is way behind everybody, so in 2015, who knows what is going to happen?”

The low enrollment rate in science is related to a lack of information for students when they select their majors and a lack of policy support from the government, she said.

“The government needs to be interested, and the students need to learn to study and they have to get information,” she said. “There is no systemized plan of the government to share this kind of information. They give a booklet to high school students, but they do not talk about what you can do with [science] or the pros and cons of choosing it.”

Meanwhile, even though hard science training leads to jobs, Cambodians often choose other routes, like law, where there are less opportunities, she said.

That mismatch means that nearly 36,000 jobs in the technical field saw only 6,900 applicants between 2010 and 2012, according to government statistics.

“All the jobs are in applied science, but they still choose business and law, where they cannot get a job,” Ahrens said. “But they said they choose them because their friends tell them. If they have information, they might choose science.”