They may not own their own computers, but learning computer programming may help many Cambodian children find their way to productive future careers.

Some Australian academics are adapting a course designed to teach local teens how to code for use in Cambodian education.

Dr Tara Murphy from the School of Physics at the University of Sydney and her colleague, Associate Professor James Curran from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies are working with the Cambodian Children's Trust (CCT) to bring coding skills to the heavily disadvantaged.

“In Australia there is a renewed emphasis on teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills. Our approach is to do that as accessibly as possible, using contexts such as The Lord of the Rings or blogging, whatever Australian teenagers relate to,” said Dr Murphy.

Cambodian Children's Trust gets local people involved in the very formation of their programs, so that they are both culturally appropriate and, ultimately, self-sufficient.

Local teachers and interpreters are already involved in this new endeavour.

“We've just completed a pilot program in Cambodia with Year 10 students, primary school children and their teachers. Most of them have no computer training and many of them don't have a computer so we were very impressed with how well they picked up the concepts and logical thinking needed to complete courses using programming languages,” said Dr Murphy.

“It gave us the insights and confidence to adapt our program for a full-year curriculum to be taught this year to high school students and adapted for primary school students.”

The Australian enterprise software company Atlassian is also supporting the program by funding a teacher.

The ultimate aim of the project is to create a computer lab that the trained computer programmers could operate from as freelancers.

“We are starting small but aiming high,” Dr Murphy said.