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Sreng Mao, Country Director, IDP Education Cambodia

An initiative of IDP Education (Cambodia), the Australian Centre for Education has been providing world-class English language training in Cambodia since 1992. Country director, Sreng Mao, spoke to The PIE about CamDEBATE, a new public speaking and debate platform, in English, aimed at cultivating a culture of dialogue and debate in Cambodia.


Photo: The PIE News

"We hope we'll get about 1,000 applications this year"

The PIE: Tell me about your new venture, CamDEBATE?

Sreng Mao: We just started a new initiative this year called CamDEBATE and it stands for the Cambodia International Debate and Public Speaking Championship.

Introduced for the first time in Cambodia at the scale, we attracted more than 700 applicants who wanted to participate in the competition. We managed to select 532 contestants for the championship for 2019 and they had to go through a number of rounds, including the audition round, the elimination semi-final and the final round.

“It’s way beyond winning an award or championship, it’s about trying to build a cultural dialogue”

The PIE: Can the students debate on anything, any topic?

SM: The topics were given, but they have three choices to choose from, relevant to the environment, education, health & technology. And in the final round, we had a big audience, around 1,400 people including the parents of those contestants, but also official from the ministries of Education and Information, as well as our friends from the embassies and NGOs.

The PIE: Was it successful?

SM: It was a fantastic event. And the thing is, it is a good initiative to expose our students to understand debate and improve their confidence in speaking in public. So there were a number of training sessions provided to them by our school at IDP called the Australian Centre of Education, but also from those who have experience in debate and public speaking internationally.

Of the people selected to compete, they represent around 100 schools and universities in Cambodia and consist of six different nationalities. So it was pretty intense.

The PIE: Who was it open to?

SM: It was open up to people residing in Cambodia including Japanese, Korean, a Filipino. We believe that diversity in the group is good.

The PIE:  So culturally it is a healthy thing for a Cambodians to learn about debate?

SM: Cambodia as a post-war society, there has been issues in regard to the lack of trust in our society. And there are also issues in regard to how people are feeling or feeling comfortable expressing their ideas if they are different from others, you know.

So it’s a healthy exercise to try to expose our views to the concept of debate and public speaking so that while we may be of different opinions on certain topic, we could still be friends.

“They see the English language as a passport to so many different opportunities”

Also, to make people understand that debating is leading ourselves to better knowledge, you know, and have a more rounded view on situations or things. While they might be different views on solutions,  we will bond in regard to friendship, sharing knowledge and see this as a professional development mechanism.

So in the long run, we’ll probably help build a better society with more understanding, you know, more sharing and focussing on solving issues and finding a solution to those rather than the ownership of ideas. The best possible solution is sharing ideas.

The PIE: How did you promote the competition?

SM: Through different channels, including social media. Facebook was one of the most popular channels we used. But also through the engagement of local universities and institutions. So we had around 15 universities and school partners which help co-host each round of the competition.

They helped out also in terms of getting the word out, the message out to their own students. And we’re in the process of announcing the next year championship and applications –  this year I think we are also encouraging people from regional areas and provinces [to enter].

“These are the future leaders of the country”

We hope we’ll get about 1,000 applications [next time], and we are introducing three distinctive levels. There were only two for this year: one level was for high school students 15 years of age and above, and the university and the young professional level allowed kids under the age of 30 – those who just getting into the workforce at the moment.

So, we are touching a good range of people with regard to age groups. These are the future leaders of the country so we like to empower them. It’s such an important lifeskill.

The PIE: And what do they win?

SM: We have attractive prizes for the winners. They will have a chance to experience the UK for two weeks fully funded, doing some English classes and the rest of their time will be sightseeing.  There will be socialising with other students in the UK, seeing summer tourist attractions, areas in London, in Cambridge and possibly in Brighton also.

The PIE: Why is the prize a trip to the UK, and not Australia, given that it is promoted by the Australian Centre for Education?

SM: IDP is an international company. We have our offices and operate in the UK and we also represent a number of industries in the UK up to 60 institutions. We are placing more and more students in the UK every year.

This specific initiative is also supported significantly by our partners in the UK and they will be willing to host. So Cambridge Education Group is our sponsor partner. We also have strong support from the British embassy also and the Department of Trade.

The PIE: I was looking at the IDP financial year results, and there has been a huge amount of growth in English language learning in Cambodia. Why do you think that is?

SM: Cambodian students are so passionate about learning a foreign language,  and at the moment, English is probably one of the most popular foreign languages in Cambodia.

“Cambodian students are so passionate about learning a foreign language”

They see the English language as a passport to so many different opportunities, including for further education policy in the English language speaking environment. They see English as a pathway to getting scholarships. They see it as a pathway to being able to communicate effectively in business dealings.

So, it’s been helpful – the demand for English language teaching in Cambodia – and IDP schools are known for quality language tuition, we are one of the best. We are second to none in Cambodia.


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