NAVIGATING NEW TERRAIN
Many schools with a slick pitch may not be what they seem, according to Ali Copple, who has been an educator in the country since the early 1990s and is a senior partner at Yejj Consulting. She talked to Southeast Asia Globe about getting the most out of
What was the private education landscape like when you arrived?
I was hired initially to tutor World Vision children – this is in 1990 – and within a few weeks they thought there are other international kids here too, so I was hired to start ISPP [International School of Phnom Penh]. It was a home school at the time. In our first year we went from six at the beginning to 33 at the end of the year, and it just grew. It was mostly NGOs and some embassies that had families, not a lot of Cambodians.
How would you describe the international school options now?
It's not changed as much as I would have thought over the past four to five years. There are probably – we think about tiers – there are probably two or three in the top tier, in the second tier maybe three to four, below that are still good schools, maybe another four. There are also schools that are run as businesses. Lots of these schools hire customer service people, and their job is to sell the school to get customers in, and that's not wrong as long as they're being authentic about what they're saying about the school.
How can parents evaluate a school before deciding to send their kids there?
I think that as a parent walks in the gate their impressions are really going to help them know if the school is what it claims to be. Is it nice? Is it welcoming? Is it somewhere you would like to stay yourself ? Often the reception areas are very nice, but once you get past that, you need to see the rest of the school. What do you hear? What do you see? When you go into the classrooms are the children engaged? Are they busy? Or are they sitting very quietly for long periods of time – that would be indicator number one that you don't want to be at that school. Can you see that there is mutual respect between the children and the adults? I would recommend going for almost an hour to sit quietly in the back of classrooms – you can learn a lot about a school that way.
How do you know if you have found the right school?
I think your child is the best indicator for you. Is your child happy to go to school every day? If you have a question, what happens? Can you go see a teacher? What kind of communication are you getting from the school? I think you can tell [for] yourself if you go into the school, like when you buy a used car – you kind of know you made a mistake because you got pushed into something.
I would recommend
going for almost an hour to sit quietly in the back of classrooms – you can learn a lot about a school that way