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The widening resource gap between private and public high schools

If high school students are going to be prepared for university academic programmes when they graduate, they must study theory and practice together during high school, said Bun Sophat, a finance and human resource manager of Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

Understanding theory means you know the ideas within a particular field of study; practice means you actually do the things that the theory talks about. To use science as an example, you can learn how to do chemical equations without actually knowing how to run experiments in a laboratory.

If students arrive at universities without practical skills, they require a period of preparation before they can engage in the curriculum being offered. “We have a science lab for doing experiments such as physics, chemistry and biology,” said Bun Sophat.

In order for students to make the most of these resources they should enter university with practical knowledge of how a science experiment works, which is only possible if they have been in a lab before.

Some of the kingdom’s private high schools have already begun to raise the quality of their education up to international standards because they have enough resources to fulfill educational requirements and create internationally competitive programmes.

While private schools have the benefit of serving students and families who have enough money to pay thousands of dollars a year to attend, educators at the Kingdom’s public schools have no such luxury. Sok Sovana, director of Bak Touk High School, says that Cambodia still faces many obstacles to improving public high schools because of a lack of resources.

According to Sok Sovana, there aren’t enough teachers, the classrooms are too small and the number of students per class is too large.

Sok Sovana added that, despite the less-than-ideal situation today, it is still an improvement over the past. Every year 10,000 public school students receive an education that qualifies them for a scholarship to study at universities in Cambodia or abroad.

“We are still very much concerned with training students in technology,” said Sok Sovana. “We don’t have enough computers, language labs, libraries or science labs for our students.”

“Before, studying in the morning or the afternoon was sufficient for university-bound students, but now they need to study outside of their high school in order to expand their knowledge base,” said Sok Sovan.

“We have to study in part-time classes and do practice exercises one or two hours after class because our studies in school are rather short. Otherwise, we will not be able to compete with other students.” said a student from Bak Touk High School.

In response to the inadequate education for many high schoolers in the Kingdom, the government has also been planning a new system to update the quality of education at upper-secondary schools. “In the near future, the [Ministry of Education] is planning to build more schools so students can study for the whole day,” Sok Sovana said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said that the motivation of teachers, students and parents is very important because they are the main drivers in the development of education.

“The government has to encourage teachers by giving them a good salary, and build the confidence of students and their parents by increasing the employment rate.” He said. “This way parents will feel like it is worthwhile to send their children to school for higher education and students will commit to studying for a brighter future,” he added.

The only way for public schools to really compete with private schools is for the government to raise the budget for education. In the free market, the private schools are competing for the tuition money of wealthier families, and they must find ways to make their school stand out amongst their competitors by improving the academic and extra-curricular programs.

Cambodia’s public schools may not have the same immediate economic impetus for improvement, but if Cambodia’s high school graduates are going to have the capacity to build a brighter tomorrow, the secondary school system must improve.



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