From the farm to the keyboard – Passerelles Numériques

Pins on the map of Cambodia. All these places will be visited by counsellors from Paserelles Numériques (PN), an ngo in Phnom Penh who provides teenagers with 2 year programs to teach them how to become computer programers and developers. A way out of poverty and a direct access to a brighter future.

100 new students per year get the chance to be selected based on their social and economical backgrounds. They come from all over the country and only need to show strong motivation and a good enough English level in order to make the most of the opportunity. Without PN, they could not have pursued their studies and most likely would have remained in misery for the rest of their lives.

50% girls, 50% boys. They come to live on PN’s campus and not only learn about English and computers but also about soft skills, respect, responsibility, hygiene, etc. They received a 55$ stipend every month to buy their own food and other basic needs and therefore learn how to handle a budget. They are also taught how to research the information they need, to share this information with others, to organize their thoughts and think creatively.

Indeed, the Khmer language is a very figurative language and does not allow for much imagination; a problem when they need to understand the needs of a client and create a new website or app. The staff of PN is made of some permanent Khmer citizens, permanent foreigners and some high caliber consultants coming on their free time to contribute to this mission. PN receives the support of different companies, mostly international ones as it is not common at all for Cambodians to help others aside from their very close circle. Local enterprises contribute by hiring the students when they graduate.

Students are divided into classrooms and all have a computer. It is a big challenge at first for them to learn to think by and for themselves. Even Khmer teachers tend to learn everything by heart and then ask their students to do the same. Therefore, PN not only trains its students but also its teachers for the curriculum to improve and for more savvy people to be able to then replicate the model elsewhere and empower more people. Especially in English, the methods used to learn English in Cambodia are bad. They first ask students to repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually then they will teach them how to read and how to write. But in the end, it all relies on memory and people never really master the language and understand the ideas behind the memorized words.

PN has 50 employees for 200 students and programs costing 2000$ per teenager. It is hard to make the model sustainable but they manage very well. Big names such as Econocom, Accenture or the Gates Foundation support the organization and allow this non-conformist school to give the same opportunities Westerners now crave for to Cambodian disadvantaged youth.

Scale is key, so we can only look forward to the next step. For ngos it is even harder as they depend on external funding and have difficulty retaining skilled employees. Technology is soon reaching more and more individuals in Cambodia. Maybe PN could scale up its impact by creating pedagogical tools to enable more people to get the basic level of education needed for attending like-minded schools and learning exciting skills for life?

Often, the answer lies in us – maybe it is the same for organizations?!

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