ONE of Phnom Penh’s unique high schools is Zaman International School, which has a campus tucked in between the Russian Embassy and land adjacent to Sofitel, straight down the road from NagaWorld and around the corner from Almond Hotel.
Fifteen to 20 percent of the graduates from Zaman International School go on to study abroad, according to Turkish principal Osman Karaca.
Zaman International School is a high school and one of the three Zaman schools in Phnom Penh – the other two being Zaman Elementary and newly inaugurated Zaman University, both located in Tuol Kork.
The Zaman schools were founded by Turkish journalist and teacher Yusuf Guleker in 1997, who saw a need for education during a trip to Cambodia and started with a one student. Today, with the primary school, the international (high) school and the university, the Zaman group has 1,200 students enrolled.
Because of founder Guleker, there’s a strong Turkish connection – with Karaca and other administrators and some Turkish influences including kebabs for lunch in the staff cafeteria.
Behind Karaca’s desk is a portrait of Turkey’s most famous personality, the great army officer, writer, statesman and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Atatürk led the Turkish national movement in the Turkish War of Independence and embarked on a programme of reforms that transformed Turkey from the Ottoman Empire into the modern, secular nation-state that it is today.
Zaman’s classes are conducted in both Khmer and English and most of the students are Cambodians.
The science emphasis is underscored by very well-equipped chemistry and biology lab classrooms where students can conduct experiments of every kind.
“All of our teachers are certified,” Karaca said.
“When students graduate from our school, they feel confident in society and they are able to communicate with every level of society. The graduates say the education they got here is of a very high level. Our graduates feel confident and they feel very proud of being part of Zaman because they take a good education with them from here.
“We make our students very confident in Cambodia as well as at the international level,” Karaca said. “We have many graduates studying abroad right now and about 15 to 20 percent of our graduates go on to study abroad in the US, England, France, Thailand, Malaysia and even in Turkey,” he said. Zaman International School has a total of 110 staff, 35 local teachers and 30 international teachers.
The Turkish language is also taught, but at the beginner level, and as a third language, after Khmer and English.
“Turkish is part of the curriculum, but very lightly,” Karaca said.
Zaman International School is a member of CIS, the Council of International Schools, also an official center for Cambridge International Exams and thereby authorised to conduct international exams. The curriculum in Khmer is that given by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, and the one is English is the Cambridge International Curriculum.
Zaman’s academic year begins this year on September 12 and finishes at the end of June, 2012. The school offers a two-week holiday during Chinese New Year and a week for the Christian New Year, and students can take time off during Christmas if they desire.
Benefits offered to the entire Cambodian population by Zaman is a free exam around the first of each May for students who have completed grade six and are ready to go into grade seven. The top scoring students can get a full, free scholarship to Zaman and those who score high can get significant discounts on their tuition.
“They can come from anywhere – any school,” Karaca said. Preceding the May exam each year is a big Science Fair hosted by Zaman and visited by students from other Phnom Penh schools.
“This year we have invited about 3,000 students from public schools to our science fair. We had about 140 projects prepared by our students and staff and teachers,” Karaca said.
The four main important points that Zaman International School has at its core are security, discipline, academic excellence and social activities. “Our school must be 100 percent secure so we can have minds free for education,” Karaca said. The school is gated and there is an awareness of everyone who comes and goes.
For discipline, Zaman has a home room teachers system that keeps in close contact with the student’s family. “If you don’t come to school today, we are going to call your father. We actually want to know why you are not at school. “Our home room teachers are very much in touch with the parents. They are able to discuss the situation with the kid all the time. It is not easy to keep that relationship, but we work to convince the parents first and follow up with the students,” he said.
For activities, Zaman has about 30 types of clubs, including violin, electric organ, football, taekwando, basketball and dance. “We have lots of activities in and out of our school. We have get-togethers, parties, class days, trips to places in Cambodia and to other countries,” Karaca said. “We travelled to Australia this year with 42 students. We have also travelled to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Turkey, USA, Holland,” he said.
School starts each morning at 7:30 and students are required to read English for 20 minutes per day, a novel or a storybook.
“We give very much importance to reading because we want them to have the habit of reading.” There’s a one-hour break for lunch and school gets out at 4pm. The high school accepts grades 7 through to 12 and now has 602 students.
“We advise students according to their ability – what they might choose to study. If they want to study abroad and if they ask any advice, we make suggestions. Those who are very successful, we sometimes give scholarships to,” he said.
Zaman’s website is located at www.zamanisc.org