A study released by the International Schools Database (ISB) has found international school fees in Cambodia’s capital city are the least costly among major cities in Asia. However, observers say the level of credentials some of the international schools hold, as well as the education being provided, could be the reason.
In Phnom Penh, tuitions charged by international schools range between $1,855 and $25,000 per year, the lowest among 19 major cities surveyed across various Asian countries. The cities surveyed included Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore; Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Bangkok, Phuket, Taipei, Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
Beijing is the most expensive with fees averaging between $8,097 and $41,389 per year. It was followed by Shanghai, Shenzhen, Seoul and Singapore.
Phnom Penh is now home to more than 50 international schools and is considered a good option for Western families looking to relocate to Asia where there is inexpensive schooling.
However, according to Mengly Quach, the founder of Mengly J Quach Education, families should be ‘in the know’ before making any decisions because there are three tiers within the international schools one can choose from. These tiers are based on international school credentials, the quality of the teachers employed and the cost of tuition.
First tier schools tend to have the most expensive tuition fees, which can reach up to $25,000 a year. Those schools have all accreditations and fully qualified teachers.
One of the main accreditations that puts these schools in tier one is that of the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), a world-renowned accrediting association and one of six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. It works closely with the Office of Overseas Schools under the US Department of State.
Second- and third-tier international schools are not designated as fully accredited international schools in the sense of having top credentials and fully qualified teachers.
“I am unsure on how qualified the teachers are in most of the lower tier schools as their certifications and requirements need to be thoroughly checked and that isn’t always the case. There is a shortage of international teachers so the schools have to make do with what they have. There are, however, too many second- and third-tier schools in Cambodia. The country doesn’t have enough middle to upper high-income families. in its small population to support the number of international schools here. There just aren’t enough people who can afford them. This means there are too many schools with not enough students. This results in the schools competing with each other and price becomes a tool used in that competition.. That is why school fees are lower than others in the Asian region,” Mengly explained.
A lot of schools that fall into the lower tiers, unfortunately, cannot afford to employ fully qualified teachers. An English co-ordinator who wished only to give her first name, Alicia, explained the international school she works for struggles with resources and finding quality teachers because they are given a hard budget to work with by the owners of the school.
“We put out job advertisements and ask for applicants to have at least a degree and Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] certificate. We do, however, sometimes accept teachers based on just experience and having a TEFL certificate. We do put in our adverts that teachers will be paid based on their experience but it is very rare we have fully qualified teachers,” she said.
“I think because of the high number of schools in Cambodia that this is the way things will stay for a long time to come. People need affordable education. But schools need affordable teachers so they can keep within their very tight budgets. At the end of the day, the owners do care about the level of education, but it is still a business,” Alicia concluded.
This article was first published in Khmer Times. All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.