Leng Vichetpanha, a student at Preah Sisowath High School’s New Generation School (NGS), has won a remarkable 40 academic competition medals – gold, silver and bronze – at various competitions abroad.

15-year-old Vichetpanha told The Post that he was currently studying in Grade 11 at NGS, where he found the curriculum challenging and he was required to study hard to keep up with the other students.

Vichetpanha explained that he had competed in many academic competitions abroad, going head to head with students from other countries and winning a total of 40 medals now as a result, something that he credits the education he’s receiving at NGS with.

“I am very happy to get all these medals because it proves my ability, especially for my school and my country,” he said.

Vice-principal Sam Kamsan told The Post that NGS was the result of a programme created eight years ago by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport aimed at reforming secondary education in the Kingdom and improving its quality. The NGS itself has been open for three years now.

“It means that teachers here do not teach ‘extra classes’. They must be willing to put in maximum effort and try to do their very best. The same goes for the students who must have a high level of commitment and always study hard,” he said.

“Extra classes” are purportedly optional study sessions at public schools outside of the regular school day that teachers charge students a fee to attend in order to supplement the salary they receive from the government. The practice has come under heavy criticism in recent years as some teachers have been accused of favouritism or lax effort during their regular classes as a result.

Kamsan added that normally a school that seeks to improve the quality of education must reform its curriculum in terms of teaching and learning methods. Along these lines, NGS adopted a new teaching method called the “constructive style” wherein students learn by focusing on interactive activities like doing research together and working in groups.

He said it differs from the typical style of teaching in Cambodian schools where the teacher just lectures and the students don’t know in advance what they are going to study or what the lesson plan might be.

According to vice principle, students attend classes for seven hours each day and the teachers at NGS get incentive bonuses from the government based on educational outcomes added to their salaries.

The NGS programme has three main components: Teaching students using the constructive method, teaching them to use their abilities with practical knowledge, and encouraging students to be ambitious and not be afraid to try and score achievements at the national or even international level, including competitions.

Kamsan said that in 2022 the school won 400 medals or prizes in competitions with students abroad, with Vichetpanha being the champion among all 1,000 of the students for winning 40 of the medals alone.

“So it sounds like teachers should not teach extra classes and teach in scientific way, therefore we need a lot of resources to support teaching. Because the classroom must be a modern room, all teachers and students have a computer and teachers have access to the internet at school,” he said.

Kamsan said that the results from NGS could be replicated across the country as long as the teachers abandon the idea of extra classes and teach in a more scientifically sound way by adopting the constructive method, but he cautioned that the classrooms must be modernised and the teacher and all of the students must have access to computers and the internet at school in order for it to work.

“So, it costs a lot – more than $300 per student per year. So where does this money come from? Our school requests it from the education ministry and they provide between 20 to 30 per cent. The remaining 70 or 80 per cent that the school needs we must mobilise from students’ parents and from philanthropists who love the education sector and want to make their contribution,” he said.

He said that all of the 190 students who passed the grade 12 exam received an “A” or “B” grade and among them they won 223 scholarships – which meant that some of the students actually won more than one scholarship.

“I am very proud that the education ministry initiated these reforms. These past three years since our school opened, we almost couldn’t believe it because things have changed so much for the better. Our students now graduate from grade 12 at a rate of almost 100 per cent,” he said.