Wearing yellow t-shirts featuring a Cambodian flag on the right sleeve and a Japanese flag on the left, a group of pre-school students pick up a wooden abacus and start simple calculations based on the instructions of their Japanese teacher.
They are among the 85 students who have attended Phnom Penh school CIESF Leaders Academy (CLA) since the age of two.
The school has two buildings and 15 classrooms providing education from pre-school to junior high, with teachers from Japan assisted by local teaching assistants.
CLA was established in September 2016 by Japanese-founded NGO Cambodia International Education Support Foundation (CIESF).
Speaking to The Post, school director Kiyomi Doi explained the origins of the school: “12 years ago, CIESF Founder and Chairperson Okubo Hideo came to visit Cambodia for the first time with his friend. He was not familiar with the situation in Cambodia. When he was here, he saw that Cambodia was still in its developing stage and the education sector had limitations.”
Witnessing such low educational standards nationwide, Hideo – who is also executive chairman of Japanese telecommunications consulting services company Forval Corporation – decided he wanted to invest in the Kingdom’s youth.
“He [Hideo] thought how can he help this country become developed and prosperous like others? He believed that only education is the key that can help Cambodian people and their country,” the 59-year-old school director said in Japanese.
Consequently, CIESF was established in 2008 to help implement a range of education programmes in Cambodia, before CLA was opened in 2016.
“Before the establishment of CLA, CIESF provided language and vocational training to adult students. The foundation has brought teachers and trainers from Japan to teach and provide skills to Cambodian people who will later find employment either in Cambodia or Japan,” Doi said.
“The foundation has also trained budding young entrepreneurs who wish to run small- and medium-sized businesses. The trainees were asked to present their business projects and do a presentation as a competition to get a prize. Finally, we’ve also previously brought in Japanese trainers to train university teachers in some provinces and cities.”
While there are many volunteer organisations which help build schools and provide free education in Cambodia, CLA has drawn a lot of public interest due to the very high-quality education it provides.
The Japan-standard education system is based on knowledge, morals and physical health from infancy. Beyond this, the curriculum still largely follows Cambodian guidelines.
“Our school was established with permission from Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. Therefore, we must teach the Khmer language and other important subjects such as history and social studies in addition to science and mathematics.
“We also include extracurricular activities, such as physical education and music, following the Japanese common school programme. From nursery until grade two, students only focus on learning Khmer and Japanese languages. From grade three up, English classes are added to the study programme,” said Doi.
There is a rigorous process to enrol a child at CLA. Students must start at the age of two, with the family needing to submit the child’s photo, family photos, family book record, birth certificate, vaccination record and an application form.
The family will then be interviewed about their interest in sending their child to a Japanese school, before the prospective students’ home is inspected to learn about their background.
Koem Vises, who lives some 25km away in Phnom Penh Thmey commune, is happy to send his son to CLA, despite the long drive and traffic, due to the school’s high standards.
“This school provides a good education and I can see great improvement with my son. When children receive education from a very young age they will be more independent. They can do most things by themselves. They can understand and communicate with their parents and siblings well,” Vises said.
Though there are no school fees, parents are required to pay $40 a month to cover the essentials, such as milk, fruit, lunch and uniform. The rest, including tuition fees, study materials and field trips, are covered by the school – something that would usually cost thousands of dollars a year in Cambodia for such a high quality education.
Doi is proud of the school’s ongoing mission to be part of educational development in the Kingdom.
“When students finish their study here, they can continue to senior high school in Cambodia, and after that the outstanding students can get scholarships to continue their studies in Japan and pursue their bachelor’s degree there,” he said.
CLA is located in Prek Thmey commune’s Koh Krabey village in Phnom Penh. The school can be contacted via Facebook (@CLAkindergarten) or telephone (011994392).