P RIVATELY-RUN computer schools are flourishing in Phnom Penh and attracting all sorts of people from orphans to Roman Catholic nuns, according to businessmen.
Dr Ouk Chhieng, who has set up his own school, reckons there now are 20 in the capital.
The doctor described how he invested $20,000 to buy 12 IBM compatibles, printers and a generator to turn his house on Sihanouk Boulevard into a private computer school called "Computer Center for Everybody".
The 48-year-old doctor in mathematics says he is currently making profits of between $1,000-$1,500 per month from the school.
As well as running the school, Dr Chhieng is the director of the Computer Science Center at Phnom Penh University
He said: "I offer computer literacy courses to Cambodians for $70 and to NGOs and foreigners for $100. That gets you 150 hours on the computer.
"One third of the time is spent on theory and the remainder is devoted to putting theory into practice. At the end of the course the students are awarded a Certificate of Achievement provided they have satisfied [certain] criteria."
Dr Chhieng says together with his two assistants he has trained approximately 20 foreigners and over 500 Cambodians since opening in 1989.
He says at present his school runs seven classes with about 10 students per class. The doctor guessed there were approximately 3,000 to 4,000 computers owned by Cambodians in the country.
Business Development Manager for the Information Computer School Patrick Koh said when the school first opened in July 1993 they had an enrollment of over 2,000 students.
Koh says: "We had 40 computers in 1993 but now we have close to a 100 and are planning to expand further. Mostly, we get students who enroll; the youngest is 15 years old. 90 percent of our students are Khmer."
The school on Street 214 offers a variety of courses ranging from a $100 introductory course to special courses in accounting ($300 to $600), publishing ($150) and architectural design ($300).
Koh adds: "We also offer corporate training which is very popular. So far, 10 to 20 [corporate] courses have been held. We require a minimum of 5 to 7 students [for a class] and have worked with Coca Cola, Phnom Penh Water Supply, Sumitomo and the Australian Embassy."
Dr Chhieng said that 60 percent of the students at his school were women, especially secretaries who work in ministries.
Among his most diligent students were two nuns, Sister Maria Elena Estacio from the Philippines and Sister Teresita Garcia from Columbia.
The nuns explained why they were so interested in computing: "We have been sent by the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia to learn basic computing skills which we can then pass on to the 90 girls who study at our vocational school in the Tuol Kork district."
Dr Chhieng says 90 percent of his students finance their own studies usually with the help of the family.
One such student who receives family help to finance his computer studies is Pon Sotia who is enrolled at the PVT computer school opposite the US Embassy.
Sotia said: "I wanted to learn [about computers] because I want to serve for a company and to increase my knowledge.
"I am also learning English and want to work for a foreign company who came here to invest in Cambodia. My mother is an old woman and my father is dead. My sister, a farmer in Kandal Province, gave me the $80 for the computer course."
The 20-year-old says he lives between his uncle's house and the neighbor's wall in a few cubic feet near the electricity generator. Sotia says he has no independent income but is eager to get on in life.
"I am very happy with tuition at PVT. They teach me in Cambodian and in English. I bought a diskette to practice on for $2, and learning materials are supplied by PVT.
"Some former students told me about the school and I will recommend this course to my friends. Sometimes I find it difficult to learn but when I practice it becomes easy."
A teacher at PVT, Sok Hong, said the school, which was opened in 1993, has 8 IBM compatible computers and offers 7 classes daily to between 20 to 30 students.
Regent College began its computer courses on Oct 3. Administrator Bienvenido Betonio said: "We charge $80 per month for our Practical Computing Course.... We get five inquiries a day "