Good Quality Education in Reputable International Schools
The education sector plays an important role in national development. The Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2014-2018 makes clear the relationship between national policy and the education policy. The ESP 2014-2018 has an increasing focus on the expansion of early childhood education, expanding access to quality secondary and post-secondary education and non-formal, technical and vocational studies.
Over the past few years, both local and foreign investors have invested millions of dollars in early childhood education, by setting up international schools – like Learning Jungle – with teaching curriculums developed overseas.
Learning Jungle is a franchised international school using the same curriculum as its parent school in Canada. Ly Virak, the school’s Cambodia chairman, sat down with Khmer Times’ May Kunmakara to talk about education reforms, his school and other challenges in the sector.
KT: When did you start your school? Did you cooperate with your foreign partner?
Mr. Virak: Learning Jungle International School started operations in January 2014 and we have been working closely with education experts in Canada, under the franchise agreement to set up the school in Cambodia. These education experts are currently managing six schools in Canada very successfully.
If you look at schools in Canada, they are really not that easy to operate. They have stringent requirements and strict laws that need to be complied with. If not they risk being de-registered by the authorities. It’s under these same strict standards that we are operating Learning Jungle in Cambodia. Our Canadian partners have more than 20 years of experience in education and they helped us set up the Cambodian operations.
KT: Why do you need to buy the franchise from Canada? Why don’t you set up your own curriculum to operate the school as many others have been doing so far?
Mr. Virak: My whole family, as well as my wife were all educated overseas. Education is in our blood and that’s why I decided to operate the school focusing on early childhood education. Our motto is: “To ensure your child masters the skills they will need to succeed in life.” This school is not just a business, it also contributes to national development.
If you look at other advanced countries, the education sector has played a very significant role in building up human resources and human capital. Also look at big and well-known companies – their key staff have all got a good education background. It all starts from early childhood education, working itself up to primary, secondary and tertiary studies. If I can do something similar in my country to produce well-educated students who will succeed in life – then why not? There’s nothing holding me back.
Let’s answer your question: ‘Why do I have to apply for a franchise to operate the school? Why don't I set up the curriculum by myself?’
From my understanding, I have never heard of any international school in Cambodia having the ability to draw up their own teaching curriculum. Most, if not all, international schools in the country adopt their curriculum based on reputable schools overseas. Even international schools in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand base their teaching on overseas curriculums.
Our curriculum has been pre-tested by education experts in Canada and it covers areas from early childhood education to high school level. We have a strict policy for the recruitment of teachers – they need to have the proper international teaching qualifications and be licensed to teach our students. These strict requirements are necessary as we have programs with reputable overseas universities for our high-school graduates.
KT: How do your students get recognition while they are studying in the country?
Mr. Virak: In the franchise agreement with Learning Jungle International School in Canada, if our students finish school here in Cambodia they will get a certificate from the Canadian parent school which is recognized by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.
It seems that most private schools in the country are focusing on foreign languages rather than teaching students in their mother tongue.
KT: What are your impressions about this? Do you think it is a risk to our education sector?
Mr. Virak: Well this is a sensitive question in relation to the current development of the country. Well, we all know English is a very important language if we want to move forward in Asean. The 100 best universities in the world all use English for teaching. So if our students want to pursue higher education abroad, they need English. Also if they want to do well in Asean, they need English. There are no two questions about that.
On the downside, if a school in Cambodia solely focuses on teaching students subjects that are very US, Australia or Canada-centric, there is a risk they might lose their national identity. For that reason, I’ve added Khmer literature into our curriculum – which is recognized by the Education Ministry.
KT: If you look back over the past few decades, most of the elite or higher-income families always sent their children to study abroad. Has that changed with the private sector setting up good international schools in the country?
Mr. Virak: Of course, it was before. There are now good international schools in the country. In Learning Jungle, most of the parents of our students are either high-ranking government officials or professionals in the private sector. Of course, it is a good trend because they [the parents] can stay with their children rather than sending them abroad. Another important thing is that we can curb the flow of money abroad.
The government has changed the minister of education, since the last elections. Have there been significant improvements in the education sector since 2013?
Mr. Virak: Of course, we have seen a lot of reform since Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron took over in 2013. We see that the minister has tightened high-school public examinations to prevent cheating. He’s also trying to inculcate a book-reading culture among students. Most importantly, however, is the minister’s policy to make private schools grow in a sustainable manner. Since his term in office, there have been more private schools in the country. And there will be even more.
Do you think there will be a problem if private schools keep growing and we don’t have proper policies to manage their curriculum to ensure they are delivering quality education.
Mr. Virak: I think the Education Ministry has a policy of allowing students to move from one private school to the next. Because of this, competition is very strong to retain students. So the quality of teaching has improved. If the private schools do not provide high-quality education, and they lose students, their investors will cry foul claiming their money has gone down the drain. For Learning Jungle, we come under a ministry evaluation every year.
As our economy keeps growing, I do hope the government also invests more in public education.
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