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Cambodian education investor explains his turn to real estate

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Dr Sokheang Chea, founder and chairman of Arizon Group Co Ltd, which invests in education and real estate in Cambodia, speaks to the Post last week in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Chea Sokheng, general director of Arizon Group Ltd, a potential investor in Cambodia’s education and real estate sectors, said that investment in education is a main contributor to developing human resources and growth of the national economy.

Though he mentioned the opportunity to invest in the education sector in Cambodia is getting increasingly narrow, progress in the sector has been significant.

“Investing in the private education sector produces a lot of benefits for national society. First, we can say that opening schools is better than opening gambling houses and brothels,” Chea Sokheng said.

“Although the quality of schools is limited, it is still getting better. Those possessing a high level of knowledge teach those of a medium level knowledge. And those of this medium level of knowledge teach those of less knowledge. And so on and so on. Some countries are not rich in human resources, but they use their human resources to make money as revenues for their countries.”

Chea Sokheng is a founder of Cambodian Arizon School and New York International School, which has progressed from 2,000 students to 16,000 students at present. The school has been well known in the country since 2004.

“Investment in the education sector is less risky if compared to real estate but revenue is also lower. The real estate is like rain: it’s regular,” he said.

Chea Kheng was born in 1971 in Takeo province. He experienced the Pol Pot regime as a child. He moved to Phnom Penh with his family in 1980 and continued his studies there.

His family was poor and in 1990 he taught a supplement English class to earn money to support his studies and family. In 1991 and 1992, he studied medical health at the University of Health Science.

“In 1996, I was studying and teaching English at the same time. The idea that I had was that I wouldn’t be able to immediately make money off of studying medicine as I wanted. I saw lots of gaps in the education sector at the time. It was my favourite sector and the government was doing a lot to encourage investment in it, so I had an idea to invest directly in this sector,” he said.

Chea Sokheng founded the New York Center in 1996 and changed the name to New York School in 2004. The school now has 18 branches.

“Success in investing in the education sector is not only based on budget, but also on knowledge and experience,” he said, adding that for past five years private investment in the education sector in Cambodia has been remarkably developed.

However, Chea Sokheng said he is worried that the economic integration with regional neighbours in 2015 will cause competition for both products and jobs.

“If we compare the quality of our education to that of neighbouring countries, we should try to strengthen it additionally. Some students completed their classes, but they don’t have the full ability to work,” he said.

New York International School and Arizon School have kindergarten to grade 12 instruction in Khmer and English.

He continued that his company will expand investments in the sector.

In 2014 he will establish a higher education named Arizon University.

“Besides, investment in the education sector, we plan to invest in the construction sector, tourist companies and microfinance institution as well,” said Chea Kheng.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sieam Bunthy at bunthy.sieam@phnompenhpost.com

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