Young Cambodian students eager to test their skills in English put themselves to the test at the Himawari Hotel in central Phnom Penh last Sunday.
More than 100 budding young grade 1, 2 and 3 students aged from six to 10 years old selected largely from private schools arrived flanked by teachers and parents to publicly compete in examinations judged by multi-national panel in front of hundreds of guests.
The spelling and reading competition is a project of Singapore’s KentRidge Education (KRTC) in cooperation with the Singaporean Merchant Club in Cambodia, the Embassy of Singapore in Cambodia and Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS).
KRTC found Dennis Ng said educational institutions in Singapore regularly held study and examination competitions, particularly to encourage English language proficiency.
“The organisation of this program is the first time we have held [such a competition] in the territory of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” he said.
The examinations are split into three age brackets; A, B and C, with first, second and third placed competitors in each of these brackets receiving $500, $200 and $100 respectively.
Nat Bunroeun, a secretary of state at MoEYS, underscored the importance of promoting the benefits of obtaining fluency in the English language – which presently remained the official language of global communication.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia understands clearly that the key to developing the nation depends on our human resources which comes from education,” he said.
Ng of KRTC stressed the long spirit of goodwill between Cambodia and Singapore and his desire to give something back to a country that had been a steadfast friend of his own.
“For many years I have thought about the relationship between Cambodia and Singapore. I have always remembered what the Royal Government of Cambodia did in the 1960s under [the late] King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who declared his support for the independence of Singapore and recognised it as a legitimate nation at that time,” he said.
“The king even invited the 1st President of Singapore for a state visit to Cambodia in order to help with guidance and give a picture for developing the country toward progress as Cambodia had at the time,” Ng added.
“During the 1960s both on the regional and global stage, everyone recognised the progress and growth of Cambodia, especially the development of Phnom Penh with a very beautiful aesthetic while Singapore was lagging far behind Cambodia.”
Ng said that after Cambodia’s support of Singapore during the many years of crisis that his nation endured, he had gone on to pursue business on his home shore, always with it in mind that he would one day payback some of his returns to the Kingdom: “especially with children who are the age of getting an education”.
In late May this year, Ngmet his good friend Piter Ng Meng Cheng, who had lived in the Kingdom for more than two decades and is the current president of the Singaporean Club in Cambodia.
“We consulted each other about how to take part in promoting the development of Cambodia and then we agreed to create this examination program for spelling and reading English for elementary students first, which was a starting point in line with my existing wish,” Ng said.
“We started to cooperate for 2 months in order to further promote this plan to be fruitful in Cambodia by setting August 4, 2013 as the examination date for the spelling and reading English competition,” he said.
As he watched young students holding hands with their parents as they entered the examination centre at the Himawari Hotel, Ng praised the efforts of friends and, in particular, MoEYS, that had allowed the formation of such a program in such a short space of time.
But perhaps his greatest praise was reserved for the students and parents that had participated.
“I see that Cambodian children are all highly willing in their studies. They need a better education system. Based on the result of our exam today, I have observed and seen that those children are brave, gentle and smart - not losing out to foreign children,” he said.
Next year, Ng vowed, the program would be expanded and improved to allow many more candidates from many more age brackets.
“From January 2014 onwards, KRTC will prepare scholarships for 100 Cambodian students. I am finding a better way for the plan of providing this scholarship,” he said.
“We are looking at a future which could bring the educational establishment KRTC to provide education to Cambodian children even though they cannot give profit to our institution but it is time for me and Singaporean people to cooperate to pay back to Cambodian people.”
“We respect the tradition, the maintenance of values and especially the glorious history of Cambodia which once provide [guidance] to Singapore.”
KRTC is headquartered in Singapore where it has almost 30 branches as well as braches in Zhengxhou city, China. In Cambodia, KRTC has a branch at #45, street 57 (at the corner with street 52), in Phnom Penh.
The branch is a kindergarten where Cambodian kids from years of age and upwards can study in line with Singaporean standards.