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Education in Cambodia

If you plan on bringing children with you to Cambodia or plan to raise children in the Kingdom, it’s essential to know and understand what the education in Cambodia is like and what your options are.

Phnom Penh has numerous schools offering international standards of education for children of all ages and the industry is competitive and growing. Outside of Phnom Penh, international schools have also been set up in the major cities.

You can also learn new skills or brush up on old ones at one of the educational institutions in Cambodia.

There are a number of venues offering extra-curriculum options, ranging from languages, art and photography, to creative writing, dance and computing skills. These options include internationally-accredited online courses and degrees.

We take a look at some of the various schools available in Cambodia as well providing advice on selecting the very best for you and your family’s needs.

If you can’t find your answer here, just ask us at B2B and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Updated May 2020

  • Traditionally, world-class school education was rare but as more foreign workers have relocated to Cambodia and as the standard of living and income has improved, the standard of schooling in Cambodia has risen.
  • Today, Cambodia boasts thousands of schools, which vary in both fees and standards.
  • State education is governed by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS) at a national level and the Department of Education at a provincial level.
  • Most expat parents place their children in one of the many international schools found in Phnom Penh, such as Northbridge International, iCAN British International, the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP), Australian International School of Phnom Penh (AISPP) or Lycée français René Descartes de Phnom Penh for French speakers.
  • Be careful and do your research though: not all schools purporting to be international are of that standard.
  • Public schooling in Cambodia is not available for expatriate students and wealthier Cambodian families will also seek to educate their children in an international school.
  • Only a handful of the international schools have sporting grounds on-site and these also tend to be the most expensive schools to attend.
  • Distance Learning and E-Learning programmes to students were implemented during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
  • The government, private sector and NGO’s are also continuously looking at education apps and web tools to make education more accessible, nation-wide.
  • State education is governed by the Ministry of Education at a national level and the Department of Education at a provincial level and it is of the general opinion that the standards and facilities are not great.
  • The Cambodian education system is made up of pre-school, primary, secondary, higher education and non-formal education.
  • In public schools, the curriculum and teaching levels vary greatly across the education sector in Cambodia.
  • The average Cambodian teacher in a public high school is lowly paid and may not have sufficient teaching qualifications.
  • A lack of accountability in the Cambodian education system has likewise hampered its improvement, with endemic cheating and corruption damaging the reputation and worth of Cambodian qualifications. There are accusations of extra money being asked for from students by teachers.
  • Nevertheless, recent and continuing reforms from the Ministry of Education, combined with real compliance measures, are addressing these structural issues one by one, so far demonstrating measurable success and a change in ethos toward education in Cambodia.
  • Cambodia currently faces a specific skills gap in the education and employment sectors, most significantly in technical areas such as STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering Maths) Education which the government is trying to address.
  • Many foreign teachers can be found teaching English language skills at a range of schools but at the lesser quality schools, the qualifications of these teachers may be wanting.
  • Regardless of what type of school it is, the level most often will come down to the quality of the teachers that are employed to work in the schools.
  • That is the distinguishing factor in any school, International or otherwise—the teachers, their qualifications and the training the teachers have had.
  • The Cambodian government wants to open more Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutes to address a lack of technical skills.
  • The Techo Startup Center was founded in April 2019 at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, with the goal of helping the country develop a full-fledged digital economy.
  • Many expat parents choose to place their children in one of the many international schools found in Phnom Penh, which have grown in number over the years.
  • These are private schools that seek to import international standards of teaching and often offer universally accredited qualifications.
  • Some of the more well known and trusted international schools in Phnom Penh are: American International School of Phnom Penh, Canadian International School, Northridge International School Cambodia,  Australian International School of Phnom Penh, Singapore Cambodia International Academy, iCAN British International School, Lycee Descartes, Footprints International School, Logos International School, Beltei International School, CIA International School and Paragon International School.
  • Be cautioned, however, that not all schools purporting to be international in Cambodia are of that standard so it is worth doing your research carefully.
  • An initial look at a school’s website will give an idea of the facilities, curriculum and approach to education.
  • The second recommended step is to contact the school and ask for a tour, this will give you a chance to see the school grounds, it is especially important to meet the people who manage the school on a daily basis.
  • You can also ask in one of the many expat groups on Facebook, but you should be thick-skinned in reading the responses and reactions.
  • Teachers and support staff play a critical role and should be assessed before any decision is made.
  • Getting your kids involved in the process is also advisable. They can offer comments and criticisms of schools visited, and offer a contrasting point of view. After all, they have to go there everyday.
  • A report by ISC Research in early 2020 suggested the international school market in Cambodia represents around 7.2% of the South East Asian total, with 147 English-medium schools that cater to around 40,000 students.
  • According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MOEYS), between the academic year 2018 to 2019, 218,357 students were enrolled in 1,222 private schools nationwide, ranging from preschool to grade 12.
  • A study released by the International Schools Database (ISB) in late 2019 suggested international school fees are cheapest in Cambodia’s capital city (Phnom Penh) among major cities in Asia.
  • In Phnom Penh, international schools charged anywhere from $1,840 per year up to $19, 941 per year.
  • More than 50 international schools were found in Phnom Penh alone, but sometimes the term international can be misleading.
  • Again, teaching standards vary wildly, with some schools accepting backpackers with no qualifications other than being able to speak English. They will sometimes have TEFL or TESOL certifications.
  • While the majority of schools are tightening up the qualifications their teachers must hold, some are recruited on the mere fact they speak the language, with others holding unaccredited TEFL qualifications.
  • It, therefore, pays to enquire about the standard of teachers’ qualifications at a school and for background checks to be carried out on support staff.
  • Schools should also be assessed by authorised bodies to ensure they meet international standards.
  • International schools offer a multicultural learning environment.
  • Some International schools boast many different nationalities of students, allowing different cultures to interact and learn from each other.
  • This produces students who have a better understanding of international demographics, contrasts in culture and an international network of friends.
  • Yet sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
  • Luckily, nationality caps are common in International schools to encourage demographic balance.
  • By limiting the proportion of any ethnicity across every grade level, it ensures no one nationality ever dominates a classroom.
  • International schools also offer a much larger teacher pool.
  • Highly qualified, professional teachers are the greatest indication that a school provides a high-quality academic offering.
  • Because teaching standards vary so widely, the quality of teachers at a school is a sure sign of expertise.
  • The top International schools are able to recruit from a large pool of some of the best teachers in the world.
  • Still, you need to make sure the quality of the teachers is excellent, not just satisfactory, that there are qualifications in terms of teaching staff, such as certification and on-going development, and they have experience in other international schools.
  • Some Cambodian International Schools scour the globe for their teachers, attending international career fairs to select the cream of the crop. Some do not.
  • E-Learning is a common focus of many Cambodian International schools.
  • Increasingly, International Schools are integrating the use of technology within teaching programmes as well as embracing Industry 4.0 and STEM subjects.
  • The best schools are moving beyond that and are trying to embed the technology in the learning process; redefining what they’re doing, and what they do with the technology. For this type of advanced e-learning, the technology is essential—meaning they couldn’t do it with pencil and paper.
  • Holidays and term time vary from school to school and there are many public holidays in Cambodia each year.
  • In international schools, terms tend to be split into two semesters, with the first running from August to December and the second from January to June.
  • Most schools close for the traditional Khmer holidays, with some internationally recognized holidays, such as Christmas, thrown in as well.
  • International schools also often boast lengthy holidays over the summer period.
  • The majority of schools, especially international schools, offer additional classes on top of core subjects.
  • These include PE, art, music, media and IT.
  • Several international schools believe a strong mother-tongue language programme is an essential component of a student’s educational development, and also as an extracurricular option.
  • It has been shown that continuing to develop a student’s native language will help students develop better English skills and skills in other languages generally.
  • Most international schools require non-native English speaking children to take an English proficiency exam as all classes are taught in English.
  • Most schools will offer support to those who need to brush up on their language skills through a specialist department.
  • The majority of schools do not test children on their curriculum skills as part of their entry but may use a form of testing to determine their level of education and the best place for students within the school.
  • Parents may be asked for their child’s educational history, previous report cards and a confidential reference from a former teacher as part of the admission.
  • The majority of Phnom Penh’s international schools offer a range of extra-curricular activities to pupils.
  • These include multiple languages, ‘Glee club’, swimming, arts, technology, horse riding, sports and photography, amongst many others.
  • International schools are able to offer students the opportunity to participate in many global events such as sporting tournaments, arts exchanges, global orchestras and ensembles, and a variety of international trips.
  • YAPP (Young Athletes of Phnom Penh), for example, is an organisation that gets together with all the other schools in the city, not just international schools, and offers a range of sporting activities, events and tournaments.
  • Another organisation is MRISA (Mekong River International Schools Association), and this association connects schools from all around the Mekong region, such as Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, and supports junior varsity and varsity-level sports teams, meet-ups and tournaments.
  • For those who wish to continue their studies as they live and work in Phnom Penh, extramural study options are increasingly available.
  • Phnom Penh is becoming home to various internationally-accredited institutions, which offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, diplomas and short courses in a range of subjects, such as languages, law, humanities, computing, science, business, management and education, to name just a few.
  • The Open University in Cambodia suits adult students looking to study in Cambodia. As the world leader in modern distance learning, the UK-based University has more than 240,000 students across the globe studying a variety of courses from the comfort of their homes.
  • The internationally accredited institution offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, diplomas and short courses in a range of subjects. This includes languages, law, humanities, computing, science, business, management and education.

Education Top Tips: Cambodia

B2B Cambodia calls on our panel of experts to share what they have learnt about education and the schooling system in Cambodia.

  • First look at school websites to get an idea of facilities, curriculum and approach to education.
  • Contact the school and ask for a tour.
  • Get your kids involved in the process also.
  • Talk to current and prospective parents.
  • Always look at accreditation standards.
  • Ask the school what options outside of the curriculum it offers? Does the school have language programs, sports programs or other activities for your child to participate in?
  • Look at the experience and qualifications of teachers at your chosen school.
  • Do all teaching staff have the correct qualifications?
  • Are teaching staff involved in continuing certification and on-going development?
  • Do they have experience in other international schools?
  • Look for teachers that not only know how to run a curriculum well but also how to run a multicultural class.
  • Determining if a school offers legitimate accredited educational programs is one of the most critical factors a foreigner should consider when choosing a school in Cambodia.
  • Internationally respected bodies have accredited everything that some international schools do – meaning every single aspect of their curriculum, environment, safety standards and finances are aligned with international standards of practice.
  • Enrolling your child in an internationally accredited school ensures continuity in their education as qualifications are recognised at educational institutions globally.
  • Thus, if a family moves on from Cambodia, children can continue with an uninterrupted education.
  • Some of the main, internationally recognised organisations include the International Baccalaureate (IB), the Council of International Schools in Europe, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the Cambridge Curriculum.
  • However, make sure you do your due diligence before signing up for any school.
  • It is important for parents to research this carefully as some of these claims might not be true.
  • Contact the global organisation that an International School claims to represent to confirm any of the school’s credentials, or the credentials of their staff.

Language Schools in Cambodia

Want to learn a language while you’re here in Cambodia? Here some options.

  • There are many institutions offering language classes for learners of any age.
  • Phnom Penh hosts a multitude of courses in Khmer, French, English, Chinese and Japanese, among many others, suitable for all expertise levels.
  • Check online Facebook groups for details on various classes across Cambodia.
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1 COMMENT

  1. A great overview of the general educational system in Cambodia and particular attention to Phnom Penh, however, a lot more should be done for the women and girls who live in the rural areas though. Often submissive in nature and ostracised by being born female, that is the sector of the education market that needs the most attention and help now.

    However, referring back to your article, the importance of learning English in Cambodia as part of one’s educational path is absolutely essential for a more progressive career direction. Would you agree?

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