Choosing between a private or state school for children is a decision that ultimately rests with the parents or guardians. While some parents favour state schools due to the absence of school fees, there remains a notion that contributions should be made to address any challenges faced by the school and enhance the overall quality of education provided to students.

Yin Sokhom, a fruit seller residing in Sihanoukville, with two daughters attending Kleang Leu High School, regularly participates in meetings conducted between parents and teachers.

Sokhom mentioned that while the school does not mandate a monthly parental payment, he willingly participates when a request is made. Supporting the school, he believes, is akin to supporting his children’s education.

“The cost of my children’s education is considerably lower in state schooling compared to private schooling. It’s primarily just expenses involved for my children’s personal needs and purchases,” he said.

On the other hand, Ros Sokhom, a civil servant in Sihanoukville, has a child enrolled in a private school with a monthly fee of $49. He explained that, in addition to the school fee, there is an annual administrative services fee of $100.

Kheang Ouy Orng, a 20-year-old alumnus of Tuol Tompoung High School, was a representative in the National Youth Debate programme during his time there. He recalled for a modest monthly donation, emphasising that there were never any objections from either the students or parents as the amount was small and collected occasionally.

“During my time in school, there were no complaints whatsoever concerning the collection of money for water and electricity bills,” Ouy Orng said, adding that the fee itself was quite small, amounting to only about 2,000 riel per month.

But recently, his former school received criticism for requiring students to donate towards water and electricity bills.

Addressing this issue, deputy principal Mey Samon told The Post that the school had organised a meeting to engage parents and the community to discuss possible support for the school based on individual capacities. During this meeting, it was collectively agreed that students would contribute 2,500 riel monthly towards the utility payments. However, collection of these funds has been stalled due to a busy workload since the beginning of 2023.

For the period from January to August, the total fee amounted to 20,000 riel per student. A miscommunication occurred; students misunderstood this to mean 20,000 riel per month and relayed this information to their parents. Subsequently, the parents of a few students approached reporters with this information, relying solely on one-sided accounts, without verifying the details with the school first. This miscommunication led to the emergence of the problem.

“Regarding the school’s expenses, we pay over 4 million riel per month for water and electricity. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and relevant state institutions are aware of these bills. Each classroom is currently equipped with four fans and twelve light bulbs, operating for eight hours a day, resulting in higher electricity bills,” Samon added.

He further explained that the facility accommodates 2,600 students across five buildings, with 60 classrooms in operation throughout the day. Both morning and afternoon shifts necessitate the use of fans and lights.

In response to the issues raised, a meeting was held with the community, the deputy district governor, representatives from Phnom Penh City Hall and education department, all providing adequate documentation.

Hem Sinareth, director of the Phnom Penh education department, stated that the school has implemented this system for the past two years. Furthermore, the school’s principal had engaged parents at the beginning of 2023 to discuss and inform them about this participation.

Regarding the utility bills, Sinareth noted that if they were only for the school office, the costs would be less than 1 million riel per month. However, many parents have voiced concerns, pointing out that private schools have air conditioning, so state schools should, at a minimum, provide fans – a request deemed reasonable.

He emphasised that, upon receiving the parents’ request, the school organised a meeting and agreed on the contribution towards utility expenditures. While the school has some funds allocated for these bills, it is only sufficient to cover less than three months. The income generated from services such as parking and on-campus stalls is utilised to enhance the school environment, including security services and utility bills. This year, although there are more than 2,000 students, only 1,700 are capable of paying the additional cost.

“While the parents have agreed to the support programme, the principal prefers not to accept the agreed upon fees immediately. He observes if there is a shortfall towards the year-end and then seeks assistance to fill the gap. However, the expenses are substantial. The electricity bill alone is about 4 million riel, with additional water bills some months, bringing the total to approximately 6 to 7 million riel,” Sinareth said.

Sek Socheat, co-founder of the Mindset Development Organisation, highlighted the importance of both state and private schools in nurturing the next generation. However, he stressed the need for clarity regarding the essential roles of the ministry, schools, and teachers.

“If schools and teachers deviate from the path of professional ethics and prioritise personal interests, accepting money for personal gain or favouring certain teachers, it adversely affects the image of the entire society,” Socheat added.