Of the 90,950 candidates that sat the December 5 high school examinations, just 1,049 students nationwide earned an A grade.

Some of these top academics come from poor backgrounds, with the difficulty of their daily lives serving as motivation for their efforts.

One such example is Khao Udom, of Banteay Meanchey province. The 19-year-old lives with his widowed mother in Por Roam Bon village of Phnom Srok district’s Ponlei commune.

Udom is the oldest of three children.

Like many of the Kingdom’s rural poor, Udom’s achievements are all the more remarkable, as he has to not only dedicate himself to his studies, but also assist his mother with work on the family’s small farm.

He holds out hope that his pursuit of education will see him lift his family out of their current impoverished state.

Thanks to his dedication to his schoolwork, Udon has been ranked at the top of his class in almost every month since grade 10. This is despite the 12km distance he had to travel to school each day.

“By the 12th grade, I was working even harder on my studies, focusing on additional tuition on top of my lessons at school. I also practised self-study at home on my own. I estimate that I studied from 13 to 15 hours per day,” he said.

Udom also took the time to investigate how former grade A students had achieved their results. He spent many hours online reading testimonies and interviews, and then adapted their methods into his own.

“My biggest motivation to focus on my education is the fact that my family is poor. I want to work hard and make sure that I can get a job that will change that,” he explained.

Udom has wanted to study information technology since he was a young man, and has set his sights on studying at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), but unfortunately did not win a scholarship.

He said he will receive some support from his uncle, but is concerned that it may not be enough for him to complete his studies.

Udom is also struggling with some health problems, which arose in 2020 when he was forced to take work as a construction labourer during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, he is confident that he will make a success of himself, even if it takes longer than he would like.

“If I cannot find a scholarship programme or obtain a grant, I will apply to sit the junior high school teacher exam. If I cannot pass that, then I will find some work and begin to save for my tuition,” said Udom.