Scholarship Fund Update
December 5, 2020

On December 21, 2020 tens of thousands of Cambodian high school students will graduate. Statistically, only 8-ish% of young people across remote areas will be among them. This year PLF has 107 grade 12 students, many of them from those remote areas, who are about to sit their exams. Their struggle for education has been real, their dreams are outlandish given their backgrounds and their futures rest largely on this score. This year they have missed half of the most important year of high school. The pressure (on them, us, and you)  is immense.

Staff has just completed interviews of all 67 university applicants from all locations; each student came to the city with at least one parent to convince us they are an applicant worth considering. Among those, 36 appeared viable. Among those 36, the Tertiary team felt strongly about 22 of them. So now we wait for scores to confirm what we think we know.

Shortly after school closures in March, we were disheartened by the prospects of our grade 12 students for this year and I’m sure you noticed our gloom and doom in missives sent in the Spring.

Precious few of our students have devices or access to the internet (or even electricity up north) and were unable to join online classes provided haphazardly by the government.  We began almost immediately broadcasting these classes in remote areas as well as our own digital curricula, which we are continuing to curate. 

Students’ feedback 7 months later is that the eLearning classes are only 15-20% less effective than real school in terms of preparing them for the exam. This is a good benchmark to have as we scale up and continue to tweak eLearning both in terms of content and also in how it’s delivered.

eLearning is the silver lining in the COVID crisis and we believe it will lie at the heart of even further progress of students, especially in our most remote communities. eLearning (as it is in its infancy) delivered 80% of what they needed during “no school”. What could it bring them during the time when there is school? Could it replace paying for extra classes? For about 80% of it, we think so and we’re going to play out that hunch.

The situation forced us to learn everything about eLearning and now we are imagining what we could do with this tool moving forward. It will change everything about how we go about tertiary education from here on.

Those of you who support High School Scholarships will see us slowly shifting away from that model as we find ways to replace extra classes with eLearning. 

The government reopened school (for certain grades) on September 15th and was meant to continue until exam day in December but on November 30th schools were ordered closed suddenly after Cambodia’s first (documented) community transmission. Online classes are now ramping up in the final weeks before the exam.

It’s an extraordinary race against an unforgiving deadline.

This year we will be particularly judicious during the final selections when scores come in. We won’t be awarding scholarships just because we have funds for them. We will do our best not to send students off to College who aren’t prepared. Better we should save some of those funds for next year or pivot some of those funds to building even better the high school level support for the next cycle in 2021. We will see.

We think we understand the effectiveness of online learning but the knowledge will be when we see scores.  The students’ success with our eLearning strategy so far, combined with the confidence a great many of them exuded during interviews, lifted our confidence greatly and we are moving boldly forward with some great candidates for University. Whoever lands at the top of this pack after what they’ve been through this year is a good candidate. That, combined with what it took for them to even get this far makes them absolutely golden.

Stay tuned for some happy news in about a month.