Cambodia's history of sending its citizens to participate in “formal spoken English” contests, both locally and internationally, didn’t start until the days of UNTAC in the early 1990s.
With the arrival of the United Nations, the trend to study English picked up in formerly francophone Cambodia. As of today, English is the second language of choice for many in Cambodia and the region, but a lack of communication and official recognition from native English countries – like the United Kingdom – is still a barrier for Cambodians.
One key to improving Cambodians’ English speaking skills is to be immersed in the language abroad – preferably in the UK. SpringBoard 4 Cambodia (SB4C), a private, for-profit enterprise, is an institution that facilitates such language trips. As of 2014, SB4C has sent 300 students to the UK.
When SB4C opened its office in Cambodia in 2007, the purpose was to make it as easy as possible for Cambodian students to study in the UK.
Sen Pidet, managing director of SB4C explains: “SB4C charges nothing for study consultations, necessary documents or English exam registrations. We offer services in the name of a legal representative of universities or other institutions in the UK.”
SB4C offers four main services to help students or senior researchers to pursue their study in Great Britain, Pidet said. These include study consultation and coordination, registration for tests and exams, IELTS Standard English testing to certify satisfactory English competence, and placing volunteers at British academic fairs and English-speaking competitions in Cambodia.
In order for students to go abroad, they need to successfully go through SB4C’s offers. SB4C’s preparation program allows young people to see some of the world before traveling to Europe.
“Thus far, we have organised four official English speaking contests in Cambodia. And for 2014-2015 contest in Cambodia, we plan to select last year’s winners to compete in Asia, which will be held in Indonesia’s Bali, with many other countries participating,” he said.
“It is the first time over the past 20 years in which Cambodians will have the opportunity to compete in an international, officially recognised English-speaking test. And what is vital after Cambodians’ participation in Bali in 2015 is that SpringBoard 4 Cambodia is also ready to field its candidates for a host of Asian English-speaking test in 2016, which will be conducted in Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat temple.”
The international competition in 2016 will test three different skill levels: “junior level” for 12 to 18-year-olds; “senior level” for 18 to 24-year-olds, which is intended for university students; and the “young teachers” level for 22 to 28-year-olds who already are professional English teachers.
Additionally, there is a debating competition for candidates 28 years of age and above.
SB4C’s efforts to involve the students in as many English speaking program as possible is highly effective, according to Pidet.
“Through experience and multiple testing in Phnom Penh, our students’ exam papers that are marked in England have shown that 60 per cent of the Cambodian students score quite well, with 6.5 marks [out of 10], and up to 3 per cent even reaching 8.5.”
Cambodian students who finally go to study in the UK are financially supported by their families, although some receive scholarships from the UK and Cambodian governments.
Students range from high school level, to post-graduates and PhD candidates. As tuition fees range from $15,000 to $20,000 per year, students who cannot pay the required sum are allowed to earn money through a student job.
If Cambodian students feel lonely during their studies abroad, their parents or guardians can easily apply for visa to visit. SB4C also helps with the application free of charge.