Distance Learning at RULE, a band aid facing the current situation but an opportunity for the future

The international double degree programs at the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) launched their first distance learning courses on March 18, two days after Cambodian universities were forced to close to the public on March 16 to prevent the potential spread of Covid 2019.

The first courses took place during the 3 weeks before the Khmer New Year Holidays with experimental classes of 20 to 60 students.

Following the Government decision to keep universities closed after the Khmer New Year until further notice, international programs have been able to generalize these distance courses after the Khmer New Year to most of its classes. Khmer courses for the 4 Faculties, for which it was necessary to train hundreds of teachers in virtual platforms and new teaching methods but also to enroll thousands of students on these platforms, have been able to generalize distance education by the month of May.

“It was fundamental that our students continue to be able to benefit from distance education and not be confronted with a rupture in academic continuity” affirmed Mr. Laurent MESMANN, Project Manager in charge in particular of the international double degrees offered at more than 500 students at the Royal University of Law and Economic.

The current context confronts Cambodian universities with challenges that no university in the world, whether in the United States or in Europe, had anticipated. RULE must ensure that all students are treated equally whether it is for the transmission or assessment of knowledge. RULE must also provide its teachers and administrative staff with the means to improve their skills through educational and technological training.

The current health crisis, if it puts universities in front of unprecedented technological and pedagogical challenges, also imposes a salutary questioning at a time when the Kingdom enters the digital era. Any organization must be able to adapt. Universities, as it is the case for students with international double degrees, train the elites of tomorrow who will have to work in an international context: students must be able to use digital platforms now and to work independently. In addition, the limited number of selected students for the dual degrees makes it easier to organize video conferences, which would be much more complicated for larger promotions or for less mature students (primary or secondary schools). Finally, the use of the English or French language allows students of international programs to access numerous content and scientific journals or foreign journals in the fields of Law, Economics or Management.

The current priority remains to protect students, teachers and more broadly the Kingdom of Cambodia from the risks posed by possible spread of the virus. This crisis may last, and it is therefore essential that RULE is able to set up a system which it will be possible to reactivate in the future if other crises occur.

All this is quite new for RULE and the universities in Cambodia: the authorities of RULE and of the international dual degree programs have organized daily virtual meetings with experts in Denmark, Spain, France, Japan and the United States for more than a month to find the best solutions which can be provided to students. It simply appears that there is not a single “best solution”: each teaching method must be adapted according to the subject, the teacher, the technological possibilities of the student and the level (Bachelor’s degree, Master). The key word remains flexibility and dialogue with all those who, thanks to this ordeal, will emerge strengthened from the crisis. This is also what RULE wishes to bring to its students: skills which can be transferred to their professional career and which are sought after by employers. If the Covid-2019 crisis seems to add difficulties in the short term, it is very likely that it has accelerated the necessary digital revolution in the long term and that it will therefore benefit Cambodian public universities.

At a time when Cambodia is heading towards Cambodia 4.0 and when the imperatives of preventing the spread of the virus are essential, distance education constitutes a precious tool which should allow Cambodian public universities to continue to comply with international standards and to join the international club of universities allowing to offer a varied range of courses adapted to different audiences and to different circumstances. The full mobilization of students, their families and teachers should enable URDSE students to overcome this ordeal.