Top Cambodian educators have downplayed a global report that ranked the Kingdom 77th out of 80 countries in English proficiency, saying that language skills would not hurt economic competitiveness in the region.
The latest edition of the English Proficiency Index, published by Education First, placed Cambodia ahead of only Libya, Iraq and Laos.
The Kingdom’s score of 40.86 – up slightly from 39.48 in the last report – placed it behind Algeria and Cameroon. Vietnam was ranked 34th in the index and Thailand 53rd.
Royal University of Phnom Penh Board of Trustees chairman Mey Kalyan disagreed with the index but conceded that some areas of education needed improvement.
“English proficiency among Cambodians is not a problem. The worry is about technical knowledge which is still weak. In terms of logical and critical thinking, we are still behind our neighbouring countries,” he said.
Kalyan said Cambodia had recently expanded its investment in English education, and that the language is now widely taught as early as kindergarten to give Cambodians an advantage in the business world.
Even so, the index says that learning English is only a starting point.
“For developing countries, the transition from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy requires adults with strong English skills who are able to collaborate internationally,” the index said.
Westline Education Group president and CEO Pech Bolene also said the index does not reflect reality.
“The ability of Cambodians who use proper English has improved significantly from year to year,” he said.
He pointed out that Cambodian students won the Junior Chamber International world public speaking award in 2015 in Japan against 115 countries that participated and that the English language skills of Cambodians have already paid dividends.
“If we compare the English knowledge of Cambodia entrepreneurs with neighbouring countries like Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam – excluding the Philippines and Singapore where English is the second language – I think the ability of Cambodian entrepreneurs are competitive or even better,” Bolene said.
The Philippines ranked 15th in the index, and Singapore was 5th.
The Education First report did not reveal the number of test takers from Cambodia, but it said only countries with a minimum of 400 test takers were included in the index.
It described its annual index as, “The world’s largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills”.
The report recognised that the test-taking population represented in the index is self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country or region as a whole.
“Only those who want to learn English or are curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population,” the study said.
Overall, according to the index, Asia ranked second in the world after Europe among non-native English speakers.
“This high proficiency helps underpin Asia’s prosperous economy, which has been growing significantly for years,” it said.