ONE of Phnom Penh’s more expensive international schools, located in a green, fenced-in compound in the western part of the city, offers an International Baccalaureate diploma that enables students to skip their first year of some universities.
According to school head Roy Crawford, 58, in Colorado in the United States, if you have an IB diploma you enter the Colorado University system as a sophomore.
“You skip your freshman year of college,” Crawford said.
“In Korea if you have an IB diploma, you don’t have to take the Korean University entrance exams – you’re automatically admitted.”
Crawford describes the IB diploma as the “gold standard” for international education.
“We still offer the standard US diploma, but for those kids who are really capable, motivated and high-level, they’ll choose the International Baccalaureate.”
Northbridge is the second international school, in addition to ISPP, authorized to issue the IB diploma course and will begin offering it to 11th graders in August.
About 40 percent of Northbridge’s 350 students are Cambodian, 18 percent are Korean and about 10 percent American.
“The rest are Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Australian, British, Belgian, Russian and others – so there are 32 different nationalities,” Crawford said. “We have a pretty diverse group.
“For Cambodians, they get the international education, they get fluency in English and they get access to the best universities in the world – so I think for Cambodians this is as good as it gets. This is the best prepartory education in Cambodia,” he said.
One hundred percent of Northbridge students go on to university, according to Crawford, with the most popular destinations in the US, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
“We’ve had our students go on to Duke University, Temple University, Penn State University, University of Texas – as well as schools in Australia and Singapore,” he said.
Founded in 1996, Northbridge was started both as a school and a housing community for the expat population living in Phnom Penh.
In March, 2007 NISC was purchased by Kith Meng, who remains the owner but doesn’t take profit from it, according to Crawford.
“The school is self-sustaining. All excess funds are reinvested back into the school,” Crawford said.
Most of our parents, they want their children held to a high standard. When you go into a classroom, you don’t know who is influential and who is not.”
Northbridge’s vision is: Inspiring ethical, compassionate, global leadership. “What are the most important things we can offer our children today? Ethical behaviour, compassion, global leadership. Our parents value that.
“I think when it comes to principled behaviour, the vast majority of people expect it, and they expect it from their children.”
While some of the students do indeed come from wealthy families, once they cross through the gate into the campus, they are expected to behave like international students, not children of privilege.
“There is sometimes an assumption that things will happen because I am who I am,” Crawford said.
But when he was confronted with a 5-year old being spoon-fed his lunch by his nanny who arrived for the occasion, Crawford put a stop to it.
“Nannies are not allowed on campus. You’re self-sufficient. Somebody else isn’t going to bring your lunch to you and feed you. You get your lunch yourself. Somebody else isn’t going to pick up your mess for you – you clean up your own mess.”
Crawford is convinced the self-sufficiency skills will help the students when they reach university, much more than spoon-feeding will.
“Here we teach self-sufficiency, respect for others, respect for yourself and personal stewardship. When you’re here, you carry your own backpack. Your name does not carry you.”
As far as educational philosophy goes, the ability to understand and apply concepts is more important at Northbridge than rote memorisation, according to Crawford.
“There is no sacred body of information that every kid needs to know. Anybody who believes that is kidding themselves. It is more about how to learn and be a self-sustaining learner than it is about accumulating some arbitrary body of knowledge: that’s really what the IB is about.
“Kids learn to learn, they learn to be inquisitive, they learn how to conduct research and they learn how to be self-sufficient learners.”
The holistic approach sometimes comes in conflict with parents’ ideas of what education should be – based on their own educational experiences.
“Parents want their kids to be educated like they were – sitting for hours doing long division. That’s not the point of math. Do they understand math concepts? Can they apply them? Can they use them to get answers?
“That’s what math is from our point of view. It is not rote memorisation or doing a certain number of problems. That’s hard for parents because they see their children are not doing rote memorisation. We show them the students are learning the math facts, but they are learning them in the real context.”
As far as what the students are like when they graduate, Crawford wants to produce well-rounded people who can make their choices in the world.
“With a whole child education, a well-rounded education, we don’t want to stress any one thing. The arts, humanities, math and science, we think of it as a liberal arts. English is the language of instruction. We really strive for balance. We wouldn’t want kids to over emphasise any one part of who they are.
Part of the philosophy is student-led parent-teacher conferences which Crawford says works very well.
“The traditional parent-teacher conferences are now led by the students – and that is one of the most powerful things we do. When the second graders sit down with parents and teachers at conference time, the student leads the conference telling them: this is what I did, these are samples of my work, this shows how much I’ve improved, and this is what we learned.
“This is for every child. It works great. It is about them. They drive the show, they lead the conference,” said Crawford.
Northbridge has 47 teachers, most on two-year contracts, including Americans, Australians, British and South Africans with a roughly equal balance between men and women.
“If teachers do not perform to our expectations, then we do not offer them a contract extension,” Crawford said.
Tuition at Northbridge costs between US$9,000 and $13,000 per year plus additional fees.