Digital media and social change in Cambodia

Cambodia is a good model to analyse the development of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for many factors: one is because it’s not only a developing society, but a society in reconstruction and second it’s because the economical model it is trying right now. The reconstruction of a nation after decades of violence and war is not easy as to pour a lot of funds on the territory, but it includes a very complicated network of factors going from mentality, culture, history, conflicts with neighboring countries, geopolitics, fighting ideologies trying to govern the destiny of the peoples, foreign intervention and foreign assistance, among others.

The digital gap in Cambodia still high in the region and it is a big priority to reduce it to reach a sustainable development, the inclusion of minorities and the reduction of poverty. Young people is becoming a very important element for this process and thus it is interesting to know how they are appropriating ICT, how they use them and which strategies they are adopting to grow it.

We met a group of 40 students of social communication and journalism from the Don Bosco technical schools of Sihanoukville and Kep to see how a group of young people, mostly from rural areas, migrate to ICT and how ICT impact their lives and communities. The students answered a questionnaire on May 31, 2013.

The program of social communication and journalism in Don Bosco lasts two years. During the first the students follow an intensive program of communication theory, media, English, computers and internet, while the second year is a time for specialization mainly in web development, audiovisual media and reporting.

In the migration to ICT young people are naturally open and they learn quickly allowing them to get it easily in few months. It is also demonstrated in the immediate influence to students of other technical sections such as automotive and electricity. Although they have also IT lessons, the time is shorter, but they are attracted to the gradual immersion of their social communication companions, so they spend their free time to learn by themselves. This initiative to know more about ICT is a big advantage in the youth and it should be appreciated and motivated. The school, the university or the official ICT policies get the benefit from this irreversible process of ICT immersion of the young people that generates a generation of self-taught people, initiative and, hopefully, innovation.

Device acquisition

The device acquisition becomes also an indicator of the interest of the students in the ICT’s world. It has to see with the change of paradigms in the communities. For families to own a laptop computer could be seen as an element of luxury and such conclusion comes from a context of ignorance of the meaning of such tool in the life of the community.

But when the students start to know the ICT as instruments of social change, they change also the perception of cost. A laptop computer costs now in Cambodia as a simple television set. For this reason, it is possible that a young person, coming from a poor farm family, gets one and gets involve in the irreversible ocean of ICT.

One of the limits in the schools of communication with students of poor social background is the lack of equipment for work (photographic cameras, video cameras, etc.) Then one tactic designed in 2009 was to demonstrate to the students of communication that it is possible to change certain community practices by others under the question What is more important to improve the level of life in your family: a television set or a laptop computer? (Rodas, 2012). One of the best stories was of one student who sold one of his cows to buy a laptop. A cow in Cambodia costs about 500 us dollars and thus a laptop. Currently, that young man has a good employment in Phnom Penh and his family is getting much more benefits.

For some European volunteers sharing their experiences as teachers of young Cambodians, to see them with laptop computers contradicts that idea of poverty hold in industrialized countries: they expect to meet  poorly dressed young people, starved and lacking all technical resources. It demonstrates that vision of some industrialized countries over poor and developing nations such as Cambodia: the poor must be shown as poor, while it seems that experiences of research, technical advance, innovation, search of the solution of local problems, must be certified in any university of the North or in any international gathering (Gumucio, 2002.) [1] Eduardo A. Vizer (2011) said that the multiplication of the technologies, the miniaturization and the economical accessibility assure the creation and penetration in the markets of everybody, something that was reserved to the First World and groups with more economical power some years ago. [2]

In the program of social communication for young Cambodians coming from poor communities, one of the principles is that beyond the knowledge and use of the ICT for their own profession, they use them as a way to defend their cultural identity, give voice to their communities, especially rural and indigenous groups to participate in the democratic processes and become communication subjects, every moment near to the right of information and communication with freedom, autonomy and construction of their own identity and the identity of their community (Gómez Mont, 2010). [3]


Questionnaire to the students of social communication and journalism of the second year at the Don Bosco schools of Sihanoukville and Kep. The questionnaire was done in Khmer laanguage to 40 students (10 young women among them) on May 31, 2013.

1. Before entering the technical school, what was your doing?

100% studying, finishing high school.

2. Before entering the technical school, did you know how to use a computer? which level if yes?

– 30%: Never. 

– 70%: I could use Microsoft Word. Basic level.

3. Why did you choose social communication and journalism to study?

– 40%: Because it has to see with computers and English.
– 60%: Because I like journalism and mass media.

4. Why do you think internet and computers are important for you?

Similar concepts:

– It gives me a lot information about the world.
– I think that a person who does not know computers and internet is old fashion.
– Internet is important because I can learn new things and find anything I want.
– Internet is important for my profession as journalist and communicator.

5. How persons of your family use computers and internet?

– 40%: Only me.
– 30%: 2 persons.
– 20%: 3 persons.
– 10%: 4 persons.

6. Try to think: how many persons in your village can use computers and internet?

– 5%: No idea.

– 20%: Too few persons.

– 30%: Maybe 20 persons.
– 40%: Maybe 50 persons.
– 5%: Many persons because in the school of my village they put a computer room.

7. Think for a moment in your village: How many computers do you think there are there, including computers in houses, internet cafes and schools?

– 5%: No idea.

– 15%: Maybe 10 computers.
– 40%: Maybe 30 computers in the school.
– 40%: Maybe 60 computers.

8. When you were a kid, did you touch a computer?

– 99%: Never.

– 1%: Yes, but in a internet cafe.

9. Make a list of things you do with your cell phone (100% of the students in this research have one phone, but it is restricted of use in the school.)

– 80%: To keep in touch with my family and friends.

– 10%: To access Internet.
– 3%: My phone has not Internet, but as soon as I get a job I will get an iphone.
– 1%: As alarm to wake up in the morning.
– 5%: To search job.
– 1%: As entertainment.

10. Does your cell phone access the Internet?

– 40%: Yes, it can get Internet.
– 60%: No.

11. How many hours per day you dedicate to Facebook?

– 15%: 1 hour per day.
– 40%: Between 2 and 3 hours.
– 40%: 4 hours.
– 5%: Any free time.

12. Which one are your favorite social networks?

Overlapping percentages. Although the students know very well the definition of social networks, they include other sites as Joomla or Blogspot where they work regularly in the creation of designs and they considered in a certain way as a social network because they work over it in team.

– 100%: Facebook.

– 80%: Twitter.
– 100%: Youtube.
– 100%: Skype.
– 100%: Gmail.
– 40%: Joomla.
– 100%: Blogspot.
– 20%: Yahoo.
– 10%: Photo Bucket.
– 20%: Flickr.
– 100%: Google search.

What usages you give to these social networks?

– Youtube:
o Searching news.
o Serching music.
o Studing (specially English and technical issues).

– Gmail:
o Sending homework.
o Sharing documents with my companions.
o Searching job.

– Twitter:
o Sharing information with my friends.
o Knowing people from other countries.

– Skype:
o Talking with my relatives who are abroad.
o Talking with my friends who are working in Phnom Penh.

– Google search:
o To look for whatever I want.

– Facebook:
o Knowing new people.
o To check in what my friends are on.
o Sharing information.
o Looking news about Cambodia.

13. What is the percent of usage of Khmer language over English that you do on Internet?

– 30%: Khmer 30% – English 70%

– 40%: Khmer 40% – English 60%
– 30%: Khmer 90% – English 10%

14. What is the percentage of Khmer scripture (Khmer Unicode) you use online over Latin scripture.

– 30%: Khmer Unicode 30% – Latin 70%.

– 40%: Khmer Unicode 90% – Latin 70%.
– 30%: Khmer Unicode 10% – Latin 90%

15. Why you use Latin script to write Khmer?

– 80%: Because the cell phones don’t have Khmer Unicode.
– 20%: Because it is faster to write in Latin script.

16. Thing for a moment in the Internet in Cambodia, what it is missing?

– 90%: To improve more the Khmer Unicode.
– 10%: To improve more the Google Translate.

17. Do you speak about politics online?

– 20%: No, I don’t like to speak about politics online.
– 10%: No, because Cambodia lacks an authentic democracy.
– 60%: No, because it is very dangerous to speak about politics in Cambodia.
– 10%: Yes, I do.

18. Think for a moment in the development of the internet in Cambodia. What do you think about it?

– 40%: It stills too costly and too slow connections.
– 10%: We can use Internet, but lacks a lot of formation for children and youth to use it properly.
– 5%: Much ignorance in Cambodia about Internet.
– 40%: We don’t have a real democracy, so it affects its development.
– 5%: Too much people cannot access Internet.

19. When you will go to work, how Internet will help you?

– 80%: I can continue my formation, knowing things, developing my skill, getting in touch with my companions and teachers.
– 10%: If I work and I meet a strain situation, I can get online the solution.
– 10%: As I want to be a journalist, Internet must be my main tool.

20. How many hours per day you are in front to your computers, with your phone and the Internet?

– Computer:
o 15%: 2 hours.
o 4%: 3 hours.
o 80%: 10 hours.
o 1%: All day.

– Internet:
o 15%: 2 hours.
o 70%: 5 hours.
o 15%: All day.

– Cell phone:
o 1%: 25 minutes.
o 50%: 30 minutes.
o 40%: 1 hour.
o 9%: All the time.


– [1] Alfonso Gumucio-Dagrón (2002). El iceberg de la comunicación: la experiencia escondida. Ponencia del Congreso Internacional de Promoción y Comunicación en Salud. Medellín, Colombia, 4-6 de Diciembre 2002.

[2] Eduardo Andrés Vizer (2011). El sujeto móvil de la aldea global. Tendencias en la sociedad mediatizada. Revista Mediaciones Sociales No. 8. Primer semestre de 2011. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. ISSN electrónico: 1989-0494. Enlace rescatado de

[3] Carmen Gómez Mont (2010). ¿Es Internet un espacio para la construcción de la multiculturalidad indígena? Una perspectiva a partir de las tesis de las estrategias y las tácticas de Michel de Certeau. Simposio sobre Multiculturismo. 


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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