In the early 2000s, in Phnom Penh, a group of Cambodian nationals who had been educated in France, America and Canada joined together to create an educational institution to fulfill their interests in helping to promote human resources in the Kingdom, hoping to enable students to develop the skills to catch up with the rest of the world.
They called the western-style school Western International.
Te Laurent, founder and president of Western International, spent 20 years living in Europe before he decided to bring the knowledge and experience in banking and finance back to Cambodia at the National Bank of Cambodia in late 1999.
Eventually, he turned his endeavors towards building a quality, western-style educational institution that would facilitate students from kindergarten all the way up to university levels.
“The foundation of Western International School is within the strict rules for both teachers and students. Teachers must have a high experience and good documents, just as they would in Western countries, like the US,” said Laurent.
“Our management clearly understands the way children learn to use English correctly, and we bring native English teachers from the west to teach Cambodian students directly. That’s why our kindergarten teachers are all European, and that is why the tuition fee of Western is up to $1,000 per year.”
For primary, secondary and high school, there are two different types of study: Cambodian language (in accordance with the national education curriculum) and the English language (in accordance with US standards).
“Outstanding students in each class pay less tuition fees, so it raises the competition among students, which makes students more motivated to receive good test scores,” he said.
“In addition, the outstanding students at Western School also get scholarships from the US.”
Opportunities for study abroad programs are also available for students of grades 10 and 11 in the US, who can continue until they reach grade 12 as well, meaning that the quality of education at Western is the same as that of schools in the US. The expenses of tuition, accommodation and meals are paid by the school, leaving only the air ticket and clothes for the student and their guardians to pay for.
For the higher education level at Western University, there are numerous fields that students can choose from that are the same as other universities in Cambodia.
However, what makes Western University unique is the Twinning Program, which is a cooperation between Western and other universities in the ASEAN community, such as in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The Twinning Program provides studies in civil engineering, aviation industry management and computer sciences. In these three fields, students can choose to study in any country while the tuition fee changes depending on the respective country.
Before, Laurent had little desire to create an educational institution, but while working in the bank for a few years, he found himself taking time outside of working hours to teach at universities in Cambodia. He became aware of the clear lack of human resources and skills in Cambodia’s society and what the country needed for its future.
“During that time in the late 1990s, I was so surprised that at the grade 12 national exam there where police, and the military had to guard the exam area while people were jumping over the fence trying to give their relatives who were taking the exam the answer sheets,” Laurent said.
“This aspect of injustice wouldn’t of happened if we had duly provided the right education for those students and youths.”
He kept thinking about that incident in order to find a way to help Cambodia’s next generation. After speaking with relatives living in France, the US and Canada, he decided to create an educational institution to provide quality English, banking and finances and general education, among with other fields.
In 2003, on street 528, Western Educational Institution came into existence, and during its first opening, it only had 263 students from kindergarten to college.
After going through each course at the school, the number of students increased subsequently, to the point that the school expanded branches almost every year, as parents of students introduced it to their relatives or friends.
“Our determination to create a western school is to provide better knowledge for Cambodia’s new generation,” said Laurent. “I find providing quality education is the key to developing Cambodia.”
In 2015, 12 years after it came into existence, Western International School has 14 branches in Phnom Penh, including 2 branches of Western University and one Western University in Kampong Cham province, as well as a primary school in Siem Reap.