CAMBODIA’S largest English-language university is Pannasastra University of Cambodia, which has 26,000 students and runs 650 classes in English per day.
University Vice President Kieng Rotana says Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) is the first university in Cambodia where everything is conducted in English.
PUC has 135 foreign teachers working in English preparation.
Kieng says English is essential for students who are serious about going on to high-level academic studies because the Khmer language doesn’t have enough complex vocabulary to describe all the complexities of science.
“In the Cambodian language, we don’t have enough vocabulary for technology, for research, teaching material, the internet, library – so we need the English language,” he said.
“I tell students at PUC it is buy one get one free – you pay for your degree and you get your fluency in the English language during your four years,” he said. Kieng says PUC has a student-centered approach.
“We do a lot of activities in the class – and teacher talking time is only about 30 percent and every teacher asks students to do assignments and group discussions. We get guest speakers from outside and we ask everybody to pass the microphone from one to the other. “This is a big change compared to the instruction given to my generation,” Kieng said.
“Today’s approach at PUC is different because we ask students to be involved in the activities. We changed from learning by memorising to teaching critical thinking, personal growth, leadership and we change people’s behaviour. You can challenge the teacher now,” he said.
PUC started in 2000 with 100 students and now has 26,000 in eight campuses and in two provinces.
“We are proud of the quality of our university because we teach gender studies and environmental studies as requirements. Our curriculum is changing Cambodians,” he said.
PUC offers video conferencing through five countries – Cambodia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Indonesia.
There are also programmes with California State University, at the Fulton and Long Beach campuses, and with exchange students to learn and work in community service.
Kieng himself was born in Phnom Penh in 1968 and survived the Pol Pot regime. His father had been a teacher and had to work very hard to survive.
“He never said no when they asked him to do things.”
Kieng is the third of seven children in his family, all of whom survived – and they’re all boys except for the youngest, his sister. Kieng has a master’s degree from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Pannasastra also operates an international high school with more than 700 students.
The PUC student body is very international, with many students having foreign parents working in Phnom Penh.
Nationalities include Singaporean, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Russian, Indian, Australian, American and others.
“A lot of students come to take our English placement test here. We have an intensive English for Academic Purposes programme including at least five terms, three months per term.”
Many students have to study six or seven years to earn a bachelor’s degree because two years of English preparation is required first.
The native speaker teachers focus on communication skills with speaking and listening, reading and writing. Students are required to study with two teachers, three hours per day for example, 1.5 hours per day from 8 to 9:30 with one teacher and 9:30 to 11 with another.
With initial financial support from USAID, PUC has grown into a Community Service Learning Centre through which students come from the United States and take part in a home-stay programme.
PUC offers bachelors degrees in business, finance, accounting, international relations, engineering, arts and humanities, English and TOSL certification.
“We have seven faculties – but not medicine,” Kieng said.
Pannasastra, which means wisdom, was founded by Dr Kol Pheng, who took his PhD in California.
Tuition costs roughly US$600 per year
“Our curriculum is more like the American curriculum. We have students from China and Korea as well and our students teach English in Korea, as part of our practicum. Right now we have six students teaching in Korea and we have Korean students learning here,” Kieng said.