A note regarding overburdening students

 “If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey

“The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be ‘what knowledge is of the most worth?’ but ‘what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?’ The possibilities virtually defy our imagination.” – John Goodlad

Educational reform globally is typically understood through the result two conflicting philosophies of education. There is the progressive stance such as practiced in the Nordic countries, including Finland – still the highest-performing system in Europe, and specialized schools such as Montesori and Reggio Emilia.  If you glanced into classrooms there it would look as if the children are busy doing things individually or in groups.

This contrasts with the traditional view of the classroom which you can see in most, if not all developing countries – especially China and those with colonial heritages like Cambodia. With everybody lined up almost military fashion, attentive and straight, sitting ‘properly’ at their desks.

The old fashioned view, which also carries with it a ‘ discipline, no frills, back to the basics’ idea, is also still alive in developed countries as well. At least in the UK, if not the US. Here the children are encouraged, by persuasion, lack of alternatives or coercion such as corporal punishment into ‘doing what they are supposed to do’ – this thsi translates in to behaviors means discipline, lined up, backs straight, heads bowed into books, looking serious, maybe even scratching their heads, and all this as a teacher bellows or drones instructions or information which are never questioned, or ever to be questioned.

Now imagine if the person ‘in control’ of the class was poorly educated and unenlightened, or at the very least a product of such an educational experience themselves, their own impoverished experience only serving to reinforce and legitimize this manner of teaching?

It would mean that their own impoverished experience of learning and education, school, would only serve to reinforce and legitimize such a view of children.

“First you learn respect, then your letters.” is a Cambodian saying. Cambodian parents view teachers as “intellectual parents.” What happens when this ‘teacher’ is a second year university student which cannot complete a primary 2 maths test in English? A virtuous cycle is a complex chain of events that reinforces itself through a feedback loop and produces favorable outcomes. The opposite is a vicious cycle. I am sorry to say, that much education in Cambodia, and other, developing countries, is much more a vicious than virtuous cycle.

The Brazlian Philosopher and education commentator Paulo Freire termed this “the banking concept of education.” In his 1968 classic, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire critiques the pedagogical tradition of rote memorization, in which the teacher-as-narrator “leads the students to memorize … the narrated content.” Freire argues, “It turns [students] into ‘containers,’ into ‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is.”

However, Freire’s “narrative” is no longer even in the hands of teachers, who might at least have some understanding of content relevant to students. Instead with the rise of test-based approach to education, school owners and administrators now tie teachers and students’ success to the production of higher test scores. Thus, today’s cutting-edge education reform movement has brought this “banking concept of education” back into vogue, demanding “objective measures” and “accountability” through constant standardized testing.

No country has all the answers, nor does any one education approach or philosophy, but faced with an information-driven global economy, a few truths are becoming universal: Children need to not only accept what they are given, they must chew on it as well, they must encounter it and challenge information and knowledge, know how to think critically in math, reading and science;  they must think about what they see in pictorial form, what devices they use everyday, how and what they eat, what happens to the rubbish etc., they need to understand finance beginning with everyday expenditure, they must be driven in whatever they do; and they must learn how to adapt, as they will be doing it all their lives.

This means being active learners not just passive receivers of facts and ways of doing or thinking about things. These demands require that schools change, too – or the free market may do it for them. Preparing the workforce for a knowledge-driven economy is not just the government’s job. It requires a change in behavior and attitudes by all actors in skills development – employers, schools and universities and students and parents.

It is critical for Idea Source School, our policies and our teaching style reflects the latest thinking coming from research into how the brain and mind works, and what is working and what is not in learning and teaching, to help our students reach their full potentials in life. The philosophy that I have put in place aims to break the vicious cycle and start a virtuous cycle, kids who grow up not just with basic skills, but a mindset which contributes to the quality of their and their family’s and their communities lives. Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success – a simple idea that makes all the difference.


Fixed Mindset

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. In Cambodia, parents will accept the likes or dislikes or propensities of their children and do not encourage them to succeed. In effect they see this as ‘fated’ that the child will not succeed. So no matter what they do, the are detained to fail.

Growth mindset

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.It encapsulates the maxim: “At first if you don’t succeed, try, try tray again…” The teacher, and other students can give clear feedback and advice regarding how a piece of work could be improved. There is hardly a finer example than ‘Austin’s  Butterfly’. Note how the ‘teacher’ encourages the whole class to critique one 1st grader’s work and suggest how it could be improved with further drafts.

Virtually all great people have had these qualities.The ability to have the resilience to improve your work.

We must also think outwardly and forwardly, thinking about just what world we are preparing the children for. So our fundamental mission is how to reimagine a world school based in Cambodia, one which takes care to match the developmental needs of children to the wonderful resources made available to us today through technology. Add to this high-caliber tech aware, experienced internationally trained teaching staff and we have a good chance we can get the mix right in making your children 21st century global citizens.


A knowledge-based economy is in fact an economy that relies on intellect and talent. We must do this while coping with the legacy of poor educational standards and old fashioned, weak and misinformed approaches to teaching which followed in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge. This does not include the subsequent poor results and corrupt practices which have not only plagued, but have become universally accepted as the modus operandi of, that is the normal face of the Cambodian pubic and private education systems.

I will begin by contrasting the Finish experience with the Chinese, and move to argue for an integrated modern approach which best suits Cambodia in its current state of social and economic development, and extends into the possible future reality that our children face in 10-20 years time.

In Finish schools

In Finish schools you may see students congregated round tables, talking together or cutting paper, or connecting bits of hose together, all without the intervention or obvious presence of the teacher. Here the educational conversation is all about deep flourishing, enjoyment, stimulation – in short getting students to think, communicate, learn how to communicate their ideas, how to build and work together in teams, how to identify and solve problems, how to explore things not only on paper or whiteboard, but physically, manually, making things, not only symbolically or abstractly or answering questions. They work on projects which integrate and consolidate their subject knowledge – their knowledge of language, maths, sciences, social studies, art and design etc.

This approach recognises that students often have a difficult time understanding academic concepts (such as math concepts) as they are commonly taught (that is, using an abstract, lecture method), but they desperately need to understand the concepts as they relate to the workplace and to the larger society in which they will live and work. It begs the question: why should the school and schooling be apart from the wider world of experience and learning outside? Traditionally, students have been expected to make connections with what they learnt in school on their own, outside the classroom. But sometimes, as an additional problem teaching in different countries and cultures than where the books were developed, there is a lack of relevance or meaning in the text. One study of English Language Teachers revealed that they

“do not have positive impressions about the coursebook packages used in general. Moreover, the general conceptions of the teachers suggest that coursebooks should be developed and used to meet the needs of the learners in the national context.”

Another study suggests

“that there are several problems and issues with the course books such as uninteresting topics, repetitive activities, and not enough language exposure. This in terms may affect the student’s learning attitude and motivation.”

They refer to the books which festoon most English language schools in developing countries’ cities and towns.

However, growing numbers of teachers today are discovering that most students’ interest and achievement in math, science, and language improve dramatically when they are helped to make connections between new knowledge and experiences they have had, or with other knowledge they have already mastered. Students’ engagement in their schoolwork increases significantly when they are taught why they are learning the concepts and how those concepts can be used in real-world contexts. In short there [and our approach] is to emphasise the following:

  1. Relevance: Relevance is how the learner personally connects with the material, not how you connect (although that helps). Connect information with other known information. Use associations to make it meaningful.
  2. Emotion: The stronger the emotion, the more the meaning. All emotional experiences “code” our learning as important.
  3. Patterns & Context: Information in isolation has little meaning. Each “puzzle piece” is always part of something larger. It’s the “big picture” that makes the most sense.

Even with respect to language teaching It was suggested that if ESL course books are to be used, it is necessary for the teacher to prepare and develop other activities, especially extensive reading to keep the classroom atmosphere more interesting and the students more interested in what they are learning.

The practice in Finland, and other countries, such as Sweden is that children do not begin serious school study until they are 7. This does not mean that children do not attend kindergarten and nursery, and it does not mean that they are made ‘reading ready’that is given some phonics instruction – how to sound letters and words. Children who start school at age seven are ready to learn, their fine motor skills have fully developed and children are mature enough at this age to understand for themselves the importance of learning. This evidence which support this comes from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. In fact pushing very young children under the age of seven to read and write [in one or more languages], or to hard with maths and other subject could do more harm than good,

In the UK the government want a more ‘back to basics’ disciplinary regime to kick in even against the views of many child experts and authorities. But when they go down the conservative route demanding more hard graft and exacting exam standards they run the risk of getting it wrong. Melissa Benn notes:

“A recent report issued last year by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) pinpoints a worrying new phenomenon – the institutionalised infant, a whey-faced creature, stuck in school for 10 hours a day, the child of commuting parents possibly, wandering from playground to desk to after-school club without real purpose, nodding off through boredom and fatigue. Of the teachers who thought the timetabled day was too long, many said it caused tiredness among pupils (93%), damaged pupils’ ability to concentrate (87%) and caused disruptive behaviour (67%).”

According to Prof. John Hattie, the most effective teaching and learning happens when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers. In his vast study aimed at discerning effective teaching methods and just what else matters in learning, he also points out that homework in primary school has an effect of around zero. Essentially children making their own choice to learn is where we should aim.


 In Asian schools

“We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There’s something wrong there.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson


The second kind of reform or practice is perhaps exemplified by the Chinese/Korean approach which largely equals intensive schooling: early-morning catch-up classes, after-school clubs, longer terms, shorter holidays, more testing, more homework. Childhood is spent ‘productively’ in study rather than ‘unproductively’ in play and tinkering, or even art and physical exercise – they are deemed ‘extra’, or ‘non-essential’ subjects. Solutions to well-defined problems are ready-made and provided for the students to remember. Chinese/Korean students are wracked with stress, even though alongside Finland, China and Korea do also feature highly global education tests. Student suicide rates and depression remain high in these countries, a recent survey by the Korea Health Promotion Foundation, shows that just over half of South Korean teenagers have had suicidal thoughts this year, while nearly one in three said they had felt very depressed. It’s not surprising if you consider that many do nothing apart from study 12 hours a day, including homework and extra English classes twice a week. It leaves them no time to think about their future or to form dreams or ambitions. Passing exams in this culture determines what you can do in life and even who you can marry, and learning from mistakes is not accepted, mistakes are as sure a sign of student or teacher weakness as anything. Such stress is not confined only to Korea, i

The traditional education style is mainly book based. It focuses on memorisation, a system with a decreasing beneficial return over time. There is an obvious hierarchy between student and teacher. The students can be, and are even encouraged to be,  very afraid to make mistakes in front of their teachers and peers.  Such learning only teaches you to accept and copy what you are given, either by the book or the teacher. If you fail to copy and repeat things with accuracy, then you are ridiculed or otherwise punished or neglected.


The problem with this type of education and fact cramming is that it misses critical thinking. Then you are fearful to come up with original and creative ideas or engage in freedom of thought. Think about it – imagine going into the workplace where all you think about is beating your work colleagues, winning the bosses favoritism by doing precisely what he wants you to do [and nothing else… whether you can or can’t, or could even do better!], Actually all you have been trained to do by school and university is copy and re-produce that which you have be taught in an exact as way as possible, rather like a machine or performing dog. You don’t need to learn how to pass exams and please teachers and your parents in business or in public service – you need to be able to think on how you can improve matters don’t you?


In the developed western countries most people over 50 years of age would recognize the outdated organisation of the classroom above as it looks like the western classroom of over 50 years ago.

class 50 years ago

And this class of 50 years ago looked just like the work place of 50 years ago as this from of school organisation was preparing workers for precisely that work place [note in the two pictures below that the typing pool was for women and the drafting office was for male]. .

typing pool

draftoig office

But these forms of work, big companies, large typing pools and large draftsmen’s  offices no longer exist. And do you know what? They never did really in Cambodia! Technology and the economies globally have moved on everywhere in this ever more connected world. In the UK and the US both education approaches listed above are playing out as the governments struggle to find out how to improve their global education standards and create an education better suited to today’s world.  Examine the images below to see the similarities of modern classrooms [in the UK] to modern work spaces [the design company IDEO, and Google, and Brown Coffee in Phnom Pehn in case you think this has nothing to do with Cambodia!!!]. Increasingly, this will be the manner in which educated people shall work.


office ideo Hub 1 SF_Office1_2012_220x475px


What we have found about the world’s education systems from the PISA tests of maths, reading and science, is that even Asian countries such as Vietnam clearly outperform the US and UK. This does not mean however that its education system serves the needs of its economy. In education there are always universals and economic specificities to account for in education systems.  If we are to win in the globalized world, all our thoughts and actions must take account of the common rules of the game. We must move towards and obey international standards in all areas of activity if we are to cooperate and compete. A recent Worldbank report shows that Vietnam’s education system may have a strong track record in producing foundational reading literacy and numeracy skills, but faces greater challenges in producing the advanced skills that will be increasingly demanded in coming years.


We must consider Cambodia  and our children must compete in a an ASEAN-wide skills and jobs market in the near to mid-term future. If ASEAN were a single country, it would already be the seventh-largest economy in the world. On  the 31st, December 2015, there is launch of the ASEAN Economic Community. The free movement of goods, services, investment and labour has wide-reaching and deeply significant consequences for Cambodia. 

Countries such as the Philippines and Singapore have advantage already due to widespread use of English, the common language of ASEAN. Singapore’s meteoric rise from underdevelopment to modernity within three or four decades is mainly due to their early focus on education. Singapore currently has the most outstanding school system in ASEAN, including the only two universities in the global top 100 [note: no other ASEAN countries come anywhere near – this is also why we follow the Singapore curriculum for maths at Idea Source School]. While Indonesia has the most population (+350 million compared to Cambodia’s megre 15 million) and the largest overall economy of ASEAN, Singapore has the highest GDP. GDP per capita in Singapore is more than 30 times higher than in Laos and more than 50 times higher than in Cambodia and Myanmar; in fact, it even surpasses that of mature economies such as Canada and the United States. Singapore is now the world’s fastest growing wealth hub with $1.3 trillion assets under management, and is slated to overtake Switzerland as the world’s largest offshore wealth center by 2020. By 2013, that number had risen to 74. ASEAN includes 227 of the world’s companies with more than $1 billion in revenues, or 3 percent of the world’s total, and Singapore ranks fifth in the world for global corporate-headquarters and first for foreign subsidiaries. Roughly one in every 30 Singaporeans was a dollar millionaire in 2012. It is estimated that by 2017, one in every 20 Singaporeans will be a millionaire.  Singapore already has most air links with the other ASEAN capital cities. When you also consider Singapore’s connectedness to global trade, its not without basis that Singapore will serve as the overall capital city of ASEAN in the future. ASEAN consumers are increasingly moving online, with mobile penetration of 110 percent and Internet penetration of 25 percent across the region. Its member states make up the world’s second-largest community of Facebook users, behind only the United States. But there are vast differences in adoption. Hyperconnected Singapore has the fourth-highest smartphone penetration in the world, and almost 75 percent of its population is online.

Getting children to love learning over all their lifetime

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” ― Socrates

We want our students to love learning over all their lifetime, not just see it as a ‘responsibility’, a ‘chore’, a ‘task’, a ‘duty’ to parents and teachers. Parents and teachers will not be around forever to think for their children. Human beings have an innate capacity like any other living organism to avoid pain and things that cause them stress and anxiety. Think about people exercising in the gym – do people actually enjoy the exercise or do they believe or enjoy in its benefits?

Most of us appreciate that first, you learn to read, and then and only then, do you read to learn. Literacy and numeracy form the foundation for lifelong learning. A working definition of lifelong learning can be understood as the ability to pick up information critical for improving quality of life over the entire course of your life. In today’s changing social and economic conditions, it appears we have no choice but to learn new things. For us here at Idea Source School this means for us teaching our children to accommodate for change. We want them to be prepared for all the possibilities, opportunities, threats and obstacles that can and will happen in the future. So we are focused not only on teaching what are known as the rudiments, i.e. the ability to speak, read and write, to count and make sense of numbers, but all the skills they will likely need based upon the latest feedback from industry leaders, those who will employ and invest in the future, and experts in education, those who are defining what 21st century learners need to be able to do and what they should know.


Literate people have the power to by-pass, refute or at least mitigate rumour, misinformation, lies, advertising and propaganda. Put simply, this means for us students who can check what they have been told and make their own decisions and form their own unique opinions. This is played down in traditional education where the teacher or the book dominates not just what you learn, but how you learn and what you are expected to think about it. We want students to plan, organise and have more control over their own lives, and by extension they empower those around them whether their colleagues, partners or future staffs. As an example we want our students to be able to seek out alternative solutions for enhancing health and nutrition. We want our students to be able to proactively participate in community development. We want our students to be inspired to value things like gender equality and stewardship of nature, all for the attainment of overall family happiness. We want them to be able to research anything from which mobile phone to understand its technical specifications to exploring new business and investment ideas, such as aquaponics.


But to make choices relies on a much border set of knowledge and skills than simply language acquisition and some ability to use Google. Feasibly, people could learn English by watching Cartoon Network all day, every day, or working in a bar or restaurant and taking customer orders and responding to customer inquiries.  But there is a problem here. This English will not necessarily help them expand their worldview, nor their ability to properly criticize, be creative, to think globally, or take control of their own destiny. On the contrary it can act as an iron cage, given them a sense that this language is only about work, only about business, only about ideas and concepts we can barely grasp or understand. The language of instruction in most universities in Phnom Pehn, including the national university the Royal University of Phnom Pehn is English, and when you have experience teaching there as I do, you can easily see the bad effects that come from a poor and rigid language orientated education. It more often than not inculcates students with rigid narrow patters of thinking, and lack of flexibility.

The hidden curriculum

“Nature and education are somewhat similar. The latter transforms man,and in so doing creates a second nature.” – Democritus (460 – 400 BC).

What is termed the hidden curriculum is a side effect of an education: “[lessons] which are learned but not openly intended” – these are norms, values, and beliefs conveyed in the classroom.”

These norms, values and beliefs compete or complement those norms, values, and beliefs you have learnt at home, in the workplace, from your social network or through media the bar, the restaurant, on Cartoon Network, and the English language instruction books and of course the larger social environment.

Educating takes time

It takes time not only to learn languages properly, but to develop global worldviews, distinctions and tastes take longer. The curriculum we use at Idea Source International School is carefully configured to expose the students to the complex range of concepts, ideas and skills that make the whole person. It links across the subjects [i.e. English in grade 1 can link to Maths and Science in Grade 1] and through successive grade levels [i.e. English in grade 1 lays the foundation to English in grade 2]. We can’t just accelerate learning, by cramming more and more languages into the children’s day. In fact doing so could have bad and long-lasting effects.

So it is no wonder then that in many cultures there is a long series of proverbs which highlight the pernicious effects that haste has on our lives.  For example, “Haste is a bad counsellor,” “Slow and steady wins the race,” and so on. The first years of the learning process are the most delicate, and one needs to focus on a given language daily and dedicate to it quality and thoughtful work.


“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ― Margaret Mead

At Idea Source International School we follow the example of proper international schools globally and focus on English. In my mind, a good command of English for better or worse is going to be even more imperative in the years to come for all people regardless of where they live. It is the lingua franca of not only ASEAN but the world at large, and it will soon supersede Mandarin as the most spoken language in the world as it is mandatory for all Chinese children to learn it a school. Moreover and more immediately, it is the common language that most people are speaking in the hospitality and tourism trade globally and of course, here in Sihanoukville. A good command of English opens a universe of possibilities of further self-study using resources found on the internet.

If it is that time is a luxury that modern life can lack, so if you split it between two, three, or even four different activities, the quality of your learning will suffer.  Therefore, we personally recommend the focused learning of one language at a time.

This does not mean that we do not expose or introduce children to other languages, most notably, Khmer and Mandarin; it is rather that we orientate the children towards developing thinking and the habits of mind which will prepare them for the future in English. We do not only give our students them the tools of communication, that is, the ability to express oneself in different languages, at Idea Source International School we are more interested in what they communicate and how they communicate it, than simply possessing an ability to [potentially] communicate. A copy of a 21st century report card would look like this.

The English language school approach to learning language can be akin to giving the children a drill or a saw, but not really teaching them what you can do with it, or what you can use it for, or not giving them any material to use it on. Throughout all our subjects, maths, science, arts and humanities – we define this at Idea Source as learning language while developing worldview.

In practice, the language learning process involves the use and memorization of words, structures, and sounds; however, emotions, colours, images, and memories are also involved and contribute to what can be called a “language core.”  Acquiring this language core is extremely important if one wants to keep the language alive in their head, even long after not having used it.

This why it will take longer for our children to learn a language like Chinese which they may not often use at home and at play, than Khmer and English [which they do, at school or at home].

A balanced curriculum

All this only adds to the notion of the need for a balanced curriculum. It means much more than a balance between ‘work’ and ‘graft’ and ‘fun’ and ‘play’, or even ‘language’ and ‘general knowledge’ but rather offers the opportunity to develop more generalised use of language and the development of thinking, practice, teamwork, resilience, creativity and critical analysis. As child development expert Chip Wood explains in his book Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14:

Twelves (and thirteens and fourteens for that matter) probably do not belong in formal school environments at all, but in some kind of cross between summer camp and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps of the Great Depression — plenty of physical activity, structured groups and time with peers, with a little formal education thrown in.

Students who benefit from a balanced curriculum will have opportunities to ‘exercise’ the four basic functions of any human brain – gathering, analysing, creating, and acting.  These ‘habits of mind and behaviour’ are widely cited in recent education research as those skills best suited to survive in tomorrow’s world of work, threat and opportunity. And they are constantly cited by industry leaders as even more important than subject knowledge, that is specific skills or knowledge, like accountancy skills, in the modern workplace. Every child should learn a broad range of subjects in primary and secondary school, with access to the sciences, humanities, arts and practical learning. How is maths related to art? How can we reinforce maths learning through doing artistic activities? How is science related to sport, nutrition and exercise? How does music reinforce English language teaching? And surely it is clear that learning English makes all subject based learning easier.


But children also need time to discover, explore, play and experiment to understand ow mistakes are not weaknesses, but potential strengths. It furthermore can show them where their true talents and interests lie – yet schools and even parents too frequently push them down either an academic ‘book learning’ or vocational ‘this is what you will do as an occupation when you leave school’ route far too early.  This can have bad effects on their motivation to learn.

Today, we must recognise that we must include literacy regarding other forms of communication than simply the written or spoken word. In the highly regarded Reggio Emilia style of elementary education, its founder, Loris Malaguzzi, spoke of the 100 languages of children. Rather than children viewed as robots to be programmed, or animals to be trained or blank slates waiting to written upon or unruly chaotic little people who need disciplined, this education style holds that children’s ideas count. If we celebrate their ideas they may grow up valuing their work and ideas, their produce, and that of other people. Malaguzzi’s 100 languages of children referred to the different ways in which children can express themselves and their ideas. Symbolic languages, including drawing, sculpting, dramatic play, writing, and painting are used to represent children’s thinking processes and theories. As children work through problems and ideas, they are encouraged to depict their understanding using many different representations. And as their thinking evolves, they are encouraged to revisit their representation to determine if they are representative of their intent or if they require adjustment and modification. This is how they begin to learn to innovate, and all businesses achieve competitive advantage in two ways only: either lowering price compared with competitors or through acts of product, process or service innovation.


Young people today, to be successful in many occupations or even their own businesses, really do need to develop multiple kinds of literacies beyond written text and these can include: visual literacy [an ability to critically read images], digital and computer literacy [cognitive skills that are used in executing tasks in digital environments], design [how to choose, work with and apply graphic and materials to enhance spaces and products], as well as develop enhanced sensitivities to sound, picture, image and video. Other forms of literacy include, in the wake of the global economic crisis, financial literacy – the ability to understand and make sense of the role and place of finance and investment in an age where many people are skeptical of global financial institutions and their machinations. Our kids need to learn to think of the big picture and express themselves systemically to do business or serve community in the future. How a business is not just making money, but developing aesthetic sensitivities which can differentiate what one does or sells in the market from others, or working out programs and projects that contribute to the local community, whether this promotes social justice or contributes to preserving traditional culture or the natural environment.  This is what we want to focus on here at Idea Source, building on the core literacies of reading, writing, and speaking, building on basic numeracy and arts and science, to include the new literacies and new global imperatives shared by enlightened people globally. Before you think of these ideas as optional extras, or idea that children can pick up later, I would contend that these should be seeded in children early, and that they can form the substance through which to teach language, maths, art and science.

Learning outcomes – our map of where your kids should be going

At Idea Source International School our curriculum is carefully thought through across its breath – that is, the rage of subjects that we teach – and its reach, that is, how each subjects develops over each successive grade level. It is a big jigsaw puzzle; it may not make much sense in the beginning, but slowly takes shape and form over each successive year. In a sense, our curriculum, articulated as a series of successive learning outcomes, is a map which shows us not only where to go, but the essential skills and knowledge that your child should master if they were at the same level of development expected by international students anywhere else in the world.

learning outcome

The Grade 1 Science Learning Outcomes

When a curriculum is badly thought through, or not thought through at all [as is common in many schools and universities in Cambodia] the students will, over the years, lack the consistency and patience to hold onto all the knowledge and skill he or she is learning. As it doesn’t logically and progressively build on what has already been imparted and shared, much of it is lost or redundant [can you remember how to do quadratic equations?]. It will disrupt their focus, concentration and resilience to cope with change. People delude themselves into thinking that doing multiple things at the same time [like attending multiple schools for English, Chinese etc.] will accelerate the learning process when, in fact, it can damage the learning process. If schools and sometimes parents slowed down and focused on a deeper kind of flourishing, they might be more productive.

The Grade 6 English learning outcomes

The Grade 6 English learning outcomes

The same is true for language learning. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?  Well, when it comes to language learning, particularly reading and writing – be the tortoise.  This means instilling the belief in our students that with persistence, effort and care they can do it. But to commit to the long term also entails trust. Trust that we know where your kids should be going in order to future proof them. This is not the place to explain how we fully accommodate this in a curriculum and long term planning, but I can assure you that we do think in terms of many different future scenarios – the possible futures you may want for your kids, possibly social, economic and technical developments locally, regionally and globally in the next 10-15 years etc. One thing in the future that is clear they will likely be working on projects.

In conclusion

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ― Confucius

It takes time to build a language core, it takes time to develop well-rounded whole thinking people. The evidence from the standard schools is that reading does not come easily to kids. There is a wide range of normal variation in many areas for young children, some will excel in certain subjects and less so in others, sometimes they will develop quickly in a particular subject then slow down, then speed up again. Measuring children against defined age benchmarks sometimes raises undue anxiety in parents. Attempting to speed through the learning process, say with multiple languages, can cause language cores to overlap, or simply prevent even one from forming. This is why I advocate that we follow the example of international schools found in every country in the world, Phnom Pehn, Mongolia, Moscow, Beijing, Argentina. We should stick to a strong focus on English, and aim to teach reading and writing in all languages only from the age of 6. There is compelling research and coalition of professional opinion that suggests that children should not start formal learning until they are seven. Teaching reading and writing earlier can put them off for life. There should be a focus on Khmer reading and writing from the age of 6, they should be given time to learn to articulate their ideas in reading and writing in a second langauge, and only a focus on colloquial, that is speaking, Chinese.

It should not be expected that children will be able to read and write in the three languages at the same pace.

This does not happen anywhere in the world, in any school, expect in a painstakingly, slow way. Yound children, providing they have enough exposure to a language can pick it up effortlessly, between the ages of 3-6 years old, But this only refers to speaking and listening. Other parts of the brain are involved in reading and writing.  There is nothing wrong with seeking high educational standards and accountability, but there is surely something very wrong indeed if this comes at the cost of your child’s natural development.

Some basic benchmarks regarding what you should expect from Idea Source School.

Ages 4-5: learning pre-reading skills

Kids learn to:

  • substitute words in rhyming patterns
  • write some letters
  • pronounce simple words
  • develop vocabulary


Ages 6-10: “learning to read”

Kids learn to:

  • read simple books by mid-first grade and know about 100 common words
  • understand that letters represent sounds, which form words, by mid-first grade
  • enjoy a variety of types of stories and talk about characters, settings and events
  • remember the names and sounds of all letters and recognize upper- and lowercase by second grade
  • read independently and fluently by third grade
  • sound out unfamiliar words when reading

Ages 11-13: “reading to learn”

Kids learn to:

  • read to learn about their hobbies and other interests and to study for school
  • comprehend more fully what they’ve read
  • read fiction, including chapter books, and nonfiction, including magazines and newspapers

Ages 6-10: learning math

Kids learn to:

  • count and understand numbers
  • understand quantities such as how many items are in a set of objects
  • identify basic shapes like squares and triangles by first grade
  • tell time and understand the value of different denominations of money by second grade
  • understand the place-value structure in our “base 10” numbering system
  • compare and represent whole numbers and decimals
  • understand fractions and do word problems by fourth grade

Kids generally learn basic math skills on this timeline:

  • first grade: kids learn to add and subtract with single digits
  • second grade: kids learn to add and subtract with double digits
  • third and fourth grades: kids learn to multiply and divide


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