Children shoot some hoops at the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes international school in Phnom Penh, on June 6.
nternational schools in Phnom Penh are growing in popularity, offering a quality education not only within the expatriate market but also to an increasing number of Khmer students.
The most popular international schools in the city currently report Khmer enrolment at about 20 percent – with Cambodians often representing the largest national group – despite school fees of up to $13,000 per year.
“Most Khmer parents didn’t have these opportunities in their own childhood,” said Rob Mockrish, the director of the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP).
“They want their children to be exposed to a higher level of education and a higher level of opportunity than they had.”
According to Mockrish, the benefit of an international school over a local Khmer education is the quality that these schools can afford.
Being well-resourced, ISPP can pay teachers well and ensure they impart up-to-date knowledge.
But the big draw is the internationally accredited curriculum that allows successful students to gain university placement abroad.
“It’s a done deal,” Mockrish said. “If you graduate from our school, you will get an international university placement.”
Mockrish said Khmer ISPP graduates commonly go on to study in many countries, including the US, Australia, England, Singapore and Malaysia.
For many expatriates, the internationally accredited curriculum offered at international schools is crucial to their children’s education.
The mother of a seven-year-old British-Cambodian student, who began her education in an international school in Phnom Penh, said a major reason why she chose to send her daughter to I-Can was because the British curriculum would make it easy to transfer back into the British school system.
“The standards and quality of education in a Cambodian school are not consistently high enough,” she added. “Plus the teaching practices are less than student centered.”
But it’s not just an English curriculum that parents are seeking. Lycee Francais Rene Descartes not only has a high percentage of Khmer and French-Khmer students but also a variety of other nationalities, including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Australian and American.
“The French academic system is reliable for parents,” said the school’s director Marie Pruvot. “Sometimes it’s strenuous for children but they are sure to excel. We have a 100 percent pass rate.”
Pruvot said parents choose the French system not only to continue their studies in France, but also because many of the best Cambodian universities teach in French, particularly for degrees in medicine or law.
Currently, however, only the wealthiest Khmer families can afford international school fees.
This month, ISPP offered their first scholarship. For one place, they received 58 applicants.