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Private schools on the rise in Cambodia

Northbridge International School Cambodia (NISC) was originally founded in 1997 as a US school. Soon after, the management decided to develop the school to international standards and to offer a fully accredited Western curriculum. Northbridge school head Roy G Crawford talked to the Post’s Sarah Thust about the rapid growth in Cambodia’s education sector.

How big is the school at the moment?

Currently, we have 500 students that are between three and 18 years old, and 96 employees, including 53 teachers. For each student we charge US$10,000 to $18,000 per year, which is less than in other Southeast Asian countries. Those revenues we reinvest in renovation and extension, but mostly in personnel costs. We offer our teachers salaries between $30,000 and $41,000 per year. Additionally, NISC pays housing, shipping and administrative costs. However, it is a misconception that our owner, the Royal Group, takes profits from us.

Why do you pay such high salaries?

Our teachers are highly qualified and experienced international educators, so we need to offer them a worldwide competitive salary that could match Dubai or Singapore. I’ve been working for schools since 1975 and my staff has similar work experience. Many schools in Cambodia work with unqualified personnel that have no teaching experience, but NISC is authorised to deliver all three programs of the International Baccalaureate and needs to keep a high level.

The private education sector in Cambodia is growing fast. What is NISC’s experience?  

We grow by about 15 to 20 per cent year-on-year. In five years, our school will have more than 900 students. However, we try to stay ahead of this growth concerning our capacity. We’ve just opened an up-to-date primary school building and want to add student housing, a performing arts centre, a bigger library and an Olympic swimming pool.

How do you explain the current boom in the private education sector?

Cambodia’s growing middle class is looking to provide their children with good education. Forty-five per cent of our students are Cambodian citizens. Some of them have lived abroad and some not. The reason why Phnom Penh has so many private schools is the low quality of public education, even though it has improved dramatically recently.

However, we don’t have many competitors. There are only four or five accredited schools in Phnom Penh, meaning that those schools are monitored and quality checked.

How long will this growth continue?

As long as the Kingdom’s economy is growing, the private education sector will grow as well. Thus, a school should not become too big. We don’t want to exceed more than 2,000 students, because we would lose our sense of community.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Thust at sarah.thust@phnompenhpost.com
 

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