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A student from Sovannaphumi receives her Year 12 certificate. Photo Supplied

Public vs private education dilemma has unexpected positive effects

Getting an education is a mark of success, but the decision to receive a public or private education remains a matter of debate.

Cambodia restarted education enrolment after the end of several tragic wars, with enrolments continuing to increase since. According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, primary education enrolment has jumped 12 percent over the last 15 years to 98 percent, while lower secondary education is at 55 percent enrolment, up from 30 percent.

Education Minister Dr Hang Chuon Naron told Post Supplement that the government was continuing to place importance on education reform, with a few key areas of reform currently underway.

Most fundamentally, the ministry is working hard to attract the best and brightest primary school teachers and have put into place salary increases from just $120 to the current $250. Concurrently, the education ministry plans to increase the qualification of teachers to improve teaching quality while also enhancing career development pathways so teachers can venture into specialist areas.

Education in Cambodia spans both the private and public sector, with most students attending public institutions.

A public high school director in Phnom Penh who wanted to remain anonymous said student enrolment at his school had increased substantially recently.

“I believe most students attend public schools and they are full of knowledge,” he added.

However, some parents choose to send their children to study at private institutions because the national education system officially doesn’t start educating kids until the age six.

Khim Phon, chief executive at private institution Newton Thilay School (NTC) Group, manages two international and two local schools from kindergarten to grade 12.

“Our international schools have implemented international programs from Cambridge, England, and we also have the Khmer national curriculum,” he said.

“Students can practice Khmer and English which is useful in the future market.”

Phon noted that from his observations in the industry, parents have a keener interest in private schools for the opportunities it will create for their children once they enter the job market.

While the curriculum and teachers are influenced by the education ministry with regards to public schools, Phon said private schools independently control their management, curriculum, quality of teaching and teaching environment.

“With both sectors in competition, there has been a marked improvement in education for the students,” Phon said of the private versus public school debate.

Ouk Chhayavy, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), said at both the primary and high school level, the group works to inspire teachers to act in a professional and ethical way.

Despite their best efforts, Chhayavy acknowledged that private schools are continuing to grow in popularity and over time, some parents have lost confidence with the teaching quality of public schools.

“The government should care about public schools, especially teachers’ salary, because then the quality of teaching wouldn’t drop and parents wouldn’t have to invest as much money into private schools,” she added.