Cambodia has attracted billions of US dollars in foreign direct investment (FDI) over the past two decades, buoyed by relative political and economic stability, as the Kingdom’s global trade expands each year.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in May, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for European-based investors and businesspeople to seek out business and investment opportunities in untapped sectors in Cambodia, as he declared the private sector an “engine of growth”.
Recently, the UK-based Shrewsbury School unveiled that it had signed agreements with Oxford-headquartered educational consultant Tutor Impact to establish an international school in Phnom Penh and tap into the surging demand for high-quality children’s education among an emerging middle class.
Shrewsbury International School Phnom Penh co-founder and CEO Charles Wong sat down with The Post’s May Kunmakara to discuss plans and the Kingdom’s education sector.
Could you briefly tell me about your school? And what led you to choose Cambodia?
Our school will officially open on Monday, September 5, 2022, which will also be the first day of school. We are excited to announce that during the Grand Opening Ceremony, which will be held the following day.
I have worked in more than 10 different countries across the world in the education sector for the last 20 years, and when I first came to Cambodia in 2019, I saw that the education market still has significant potential to grow.
Since I am deeply rooted in this sector, I judged that I could bring the best of the British educational system, which has over 400 years of proven effectiveness, to Cambodia. This would bridge the existing gap between local and international standards in the educational industry.
I have also observed that the country is benefitting from political stability that the Cambodian government has established over the years. This is evident from the promising GDP (gross domestic product) growth of the country based on records available. Plus, the investment policy in place is absolutely enticing to investors.
The workforce in this country is young and dynamic, and in addition there are the SEA (Southeast Asia) Games of 2023, which will be hosted by Cambodia.
To top it all, the Cambodian people are warm, very friendly and welcoming to foreigners like me.
It would be an honour for me to bring world-class education to this country, and it is my hope and dream that someday parents will remember me and the school for what we have contributed, in terms of offering the best quality educational system that Cambodia has ever seen. After all, I strongly believe that education can change the world for the better.
These are all the reasons why I invested in Cambodia. I see the great potential of the country, and the whole environment just seems right to come and invest, more so than in any of the other countries that we have considered before making our investment.
What’s your school’s relationship with Shrewsbury School, and have you connected with any local investors?
We have signed a License Agreement with Shrewsbury School UK that recognises us as the official operator of the Shrewsbury brand here in Cambodia. What this means is that we get the full support of Shrewsbury School UK in terms of curriculum, staffing, their system, their brand and any support that we need to successfully operate the school.
As of today, me and a few of my partners are the investors of the school. We do not have any local partners yet, although we are open to the idea of having a Cambodian partner in the future as we recognise that local expertise is needed to successfully run the school.
How many countries in Southeast Asia have you been to?
Personally, I have lived and worked in more than 10 different countries for education businesses worldwide, both in Asian and Western countries.
As for Shrewsbury International School, the school has been established in Bangkok, Hong Kong and China for almost two decades now. We offer early years, ages 2 to 5, and years 1-13, ages 5 to 18.
What can your school offer Cambodian students?
I strongly believe in the proper use of factual data, and Shrewsbury School UK’s track record is that 20 per cent of its 2021 graduates went on to study at a world top 20 university – such as MIT, Cambridge, Stanford, Oxford and Harvard.
Moreover, the Shrewsbury School Bangkok graduating class of 2021 managed to achieve the top A* grade in over 60 per cent of their A-level exams, which is about three times the UK national average rate.
A Shrewsbury education will educate and empower each individual pupil to flourish in life and contribute positively to the world around them. This is the focal aim of our school, and we have seen how this positively affects the lives of our students, and this is what awaits Cambodian students at our school.
What are your plans for the next few years?
We are planning to establish Shrewsbury International School not only in Cambodia but also in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Our current focus here in Cambodia is growing the school. In two years’ time, in 2024, our main campus is scheduled to open in Chroy Changvar, at which point we will start accepting students into our Primary school.
A year after that, in 2025, our secondary school will open with full boarding facilities available. The age range for the boarding school is from year 7 to 13, as there are certain requirements to fulfil for these students living in our main campus to be admitted.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.