Open Institute Cambodia – Using technology to improve lives in the Kingdom

You might have heard of Open Institute (OI) before, a nongovernmental and not-for-profit organisation that is helping Cambodia to advance towards a Kingdom with extensive access to high quality education, information, communications, and technology.

Geeks in Cambodia caught up with Open Institute’s Chief of Party, Javier Sola, to find out more about the different works that OI does through the use of technology here. We’ve broken them down into different segments below for you to understand the different projects they’ve implemented better!

(Javier’s responses have been edited for flow and clarity)

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Khmer OS

Since 2004, we’ve implemented a project called the Khmer OS, which standardizes the use of Unicode in Cambodia. Before, there were about 30 different ways of writing Khmer.

We’ve also translated open source software into Khmer, and we have a whole set of tools, work processers and computer operating systems in the Khmer Language.

Then, we started working with the Ministry of Education. We wrote policies for them, which involve teaching students only open source software in the Khmer language, and not any other Microsoft software that are in any other language.

Retyping Old Publications for Public Access Online

We’ve retyped a lot of old publications, books, and magazines on the Kampuchea regime, which amounts to over 100 books. We’ve also retyped any old dictionaries that we found in Khmer, and the old French-Khmer dictionaries.

We make them publicly available online, because we see them as tools for research. Most of these are available on SourceForge, a website for open source software.

Training Videos for Teachers

We kept working with the Ministry of Education on anything that had to do with technology, including creating videos. We’ve developed over 300 training videos for teachers on physics and biology experiments.

We’ve led textbook curriculums that involve the topic of technology. We’ve written books on how to write for computers, how to integrate into the job market, and many more. We’re now working on a Grade 12 textbook on vocational orientation, which explains all the ICT careers and so on to try and interest students on joining them in the future.

SPICE (Structuring Partnerships for an Innovative Communications Environment) Program

For the last few years, we’ve been running a USAID-funded program on technology called the SPICE program.

(Read more on GIC’s take about the SPICE program here)

Basically, the program tries to help NGOs reach out better to their beneficiaries – the people that they want to reach out to. We’ve worked with a lot of NGOs and we realised that the best way to get out to people in Cambodia is through voice. So we did a lot of work with automatic phone calls and pre-recorded messages, which happened to be very successful.

We also did something for the elections, where people could call and ask how to vote and so on. We had about 600,000 people calling, which amounts to almost 11% of the voters.

Calling System for Mothers

We fix systems that call mothers who just had babies, every 3 days after the birth of their child to advice them on what they should do. For example, on one day, a mother should look at the umbilical cord of the baby to make sure it isn’t infected, and on another day, the mother should come to the health centre for vaccinations.

We also connect with local NGOs and do a lot of work on data collection tools. We use them for plain research in very simple ways, through data entry. For example, we have health centres that make use of tablets. We simply enter the data so that we can keep track of patients, the mothers who just had babies, whether or not they’ve come back for visits, and so on.

This fits our voice system. We can call the mothers, and we can also send them special messages reminding them to come and vaccinate their babies.

The messages are pre-recorded, we can make it interactive if we wanted to. But in this case, interaction is very complicated for many people. So we only use pre-recorded messages, which only work if the content is really good; if you just say things for the sake of saying them, people will not remember. The content has to have both authority and empathy.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

We created the first Interactive Voice Response (IVR) product in Cambodia, and we’ve offered this to a lot of NGOs here who have been using it.

We were faced with the problems of the cost of phone calls, and how to reach more people with voice. To us, voice is the key to connecting to people here. So we found a way of packaging voice into smartphones. One just has to download an application and it has all the voice content inside.

For example, we created an application in the Tompoun language, a minority language in Cambodia that cannot be does not have a writing system. This system explains the land laws to you in the Tompoun language. And it gives you choices on the different things that you can find out. You cango through all these things, and all the information can be found in the app.

This is one of the big things that Open Institute has done, because this is something that didn’t exist before in Cambodia. Not only did we create an application that uses voice and selection navigation of data, we can also make your phone call you, without a network or without the Internet.

Games

Based on the technology we just talked about, we’re also developing games. Your phone would ring once a day or every two days, and you will be asked a question. Upon answering the question, you will be able to hear a message with the right answer.

We’re currently working on a concept that trains factory workers through a game. With the right answers, one will be able to get points. You can compare your score with your Facebook friends or your colleagues in the same factory or province.

At the end of the day, we’re constantly looking at different ways to use this technology.

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These are just some of many different works that Open Institute does. To find out more about their different projects, check out their official website here. Keep updated with Geeks in Cambodia to find out the latest happenings with Open Institute as well, where we will keep you posted!