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After passing exit exams, workers ask what’s next

Sorn Samnang wants to be a teacher. Victoria Mørck Madsen
Sorn Samnang wants to be a teacher. Victoria Mørck Madsen

After passing exit exams, workers ask what’s next

Last week, the Ministry of Education released the results of 83,325 students who took the high school exit exam. Among the 56 per cent who passed, there were half a dozen garment factory workers. Vandy Muong spoke to two of those workers, Vong Kosamak (34) and Sorn Samnang (25), about how they managed to study while working six-day weeks, and what the women plan to do next

Could you tell us briefly about your background?

Vong Kosamak: I started working in a garment factory in 2000. I didn’t want to quit school at that time, but my family was in a financial crisis so I went to work to support them.

Now my family is doing a bit better, so I could save money to go to school for the exams.

Since I was young, I have always wanted to [access] higher education, and I promised myself I would continue no matter how old I was.

Sorn Samang: I started working as a garment worker in 2005 when I was in grade nine because my family was poor and we owed a lot of money to people.

My parents were farmers, but they didn’t have land to farm at all.

Is your family supportive?

VK: Honestly speaking, my parents did not support my studying – they said that studying could waste money and time, but I got support from friends who I worked with.

SS: Only my father encouraged and supported me to take this exam. The day I took the exam, I was reminded of my father’s advice.

He said that even if I failed he would encourage me, because he knew that I was not like other students who had more time to learn.
 
How did you manage to review for your exams while working full time?

VK: It was so hard to prepare for the exams. I work eight to 10 hours from Monday to Saturday, so I’d read a book or review lessons during lunchtime and at night time after I’d finished cooking dinner. 

On Sundays, I went to class, where I studied with 50 to 60 other people.

SS: I was always reading books and listening to news on the radio, because I knew that if I knew a lot of information it would be helpful to use in the exam. I borrowed books from people and sometimes I revised by myself. Each month, I studied for four Sundays.

There were not many garment workers who were registered to study, and I needed to try twice as hard as normal students.

What are you planning next? Will you have the money to go to university? 

VK: Now I’ve succeeded with my first goal, but I am unhappy because I don’t have money to continue to university. That is my second goal.

I want to become a public servant who works in a government institution. If I could get a scholarship, it would be brilliant for me.

And I want to find a school where I can work and study at the same time, because I need money to support myself and family.

SS: ASEAN integration will mean that Cambodia needs educated people to work, and I want to have a university certificate.

I want to be a teacher for children who live far from the city, because I want to encourage them to continue their studies.

I plan to apply for teaching school, but it is hard to ask permission from my workplace. They don’t need workers to have a high level of education and they are afraid that we would lead demonstrations [if we do].

I hope that students or garment workers try hard to pass the exam and don’t lose the confidence to take it. They should try to read and listen to news. I believe ​​that trying leads to success.

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