Deel 2 – Scholing in Cambodja.

We posten deze weken drie berichten over scholing in Cambodja. Deze BLOG’s geven een beeld van de ontwikkeling van de situatie hier en nu, maar ook van de geschiedenis.

Dit is deel twee van de reeks van drie.

We hebben deze BLOG’s kunnen gebruiken van een vriendin van ons ( We zijn blij dat we ze over mogen nemen. De BLOG’s zijn in het Engels geschreven.

Cambodian education, part 2: 1980 through 1998

In part 1 of this post, I described what I’ve been learning about education before the Khmer Rouge regime knocked Cambodia back to Year Zero. From monks teaching the village kids a few prayers and a bit of math, to French officials trying to duplicate French elementary schools, to Prince Sihanouk exponentially increasing school buildings without funding them or establishing standards for them or training more teachers, Cambodian education was already pretty messy before the genocide and Mao-style cultural revolution. But how have things progressed in the 35 years since the horrors of the Khmer Rouge? The title of David Ayres’ book, Anatomy of a Crisis, warns us there haven’t been any miracles.

When the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, they also assumed temporary control of Cambodia. They saw education as a key method of legitimizing their socialist regime in Cambodians’ eyes, and so they hurried to expand school enrollment, even while many children in war-ravaged communities still lacked basics like clothing, food and shelter. One school even had children attending naked. The Vietnamese administration had lofty goals of promoting socialism, Khmer-language instruction, ruralization, and adult literacy. But the curriculum continued to be largely classical, based on the original French schools. The Cambodian education officials, most of whom had served pre-Khmer Rouge under Lon Nol, didn’t know how to implement most of the new goals, and simply ignored them. Likewise, schools were overwhelmed by enrollment numbers and a lack of resources. In 1981, the nation’s former top high school didn’t even have textbooks or instructional materials, let alone a well-trained teaching staff. Adult literacy classes were largely unfruitful for similar reasons; one report describes an evening class crammed into a musty building by candlelight.

The Vietnamese were somewhat successful in one regard: promoting socialism. Students learned to cram their essays with praises of Marx and Lenin and allusions to solidarity between Vietnam and Cambodia. However, many who reached secondary school couldn’t care less about socialism. They increasingly viewed education as irrelevant and filled with propaganda. Despite the new emphasis on studying Vietnamese, Russian, and German, they still sought opportunities to study “capitalist” languages like English and French. In 1989, Cambodia officially abandoned socialism, changing its regime name, flag, and economic policies. Yet schools continued to advocate for Marxism and Leninism, reflecting the inertia in educational policy and the government’s negligence of curriculum.

From 1991 to 1993, the United Nations assumed control of Cambodia in an unprecedented effort to restore peace and rebuild the nation. (Pockets of Khmer Rouge resistance troops maintained control over some areas of Cambodia, and power struggles between other leaders likewise placed Cambodia in jeopardy.) The UN helped create a fragile coalition between two major parties, implement a constitution mandating the separation of powers, and educate Cambodians about elections and the democratic process. However, it had little influence on the Ministry of Education, and the same issues continued regarding the lack of funding, resources, and quality. Impatient for an educational overhaul, many NGO’s worked with local schools and districts to create curriculum and improve quality in the early and mid-1990s. However, in Ayres’ view, their short-term progress in various directions actually complicated long-term development of a unified national education policy.

Meanwhile, after the UN bowed out in 1993, it became apparent that their reforms had been rather superficial. While influencing the constitution’s mandates and the citizens’ expectations of their leaders, the UN had not changed the culture among national leaders. Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh were joint prime ministers under the coalition, but their unity was in name only. In practice, their power struggle led to parallel, competing party states in every realm of government as they tried to establish client networks and exert power in each ministry. Their view of power dates back to legends of Cambodian greatness in the era of Angkor Wat; every Khmer leader in the past 100+ years has alluded to that grandeur and aspired to it. Hun Sen’s coup in 1997 forced Prince Ranariddh to flee the country and destroyed any illusions of cooperation and compromise – values that are absent from Cambodian culture.

Without acknowledging the rule of law, Cambodia’s government could not implement the UN’s goals for national development. Separation of powers existed in name only.  Regardless of the beautiful plans designed by education ministers, the World Bank, and international donors, schools remained at the mercy of the capricious Big Cheese. “There is ample evidence demonstrating that the goals, objectives, and policies of the Ministry of Education were often abandoned in the name of the immediate political priorities of those with higher authority than the policy-makers. The result was an obvious failure to improve the quality and relevance of education. A final theme was the government’s lack of commitment to its agreements with the international donor community.” (152) It’s not as if these authorities pretended to know anything about education. Hun Sen, prime minister since 1985, never even completed elementary school. The point was, the top leaders had the final say, and they exercised his authority however he pleased.

Ayres’ book is filled with cringe-worthy examples of leaders’ thoughtless promises.  In one common example, a leader would visit a village just before an election.  “We’re going to build you a school!” he’d enthusiastically proclaim.  The leader would order a businessman to finance a new school building in exchange for special privileges like lucrative farmland near the village or permission to illegally log Cambodian forests.  No money would be provided for educational resources or teacher salaries; perhaps someone from the village would be crazy enough to accept the tiny salary, whether or not that someone had completed much schooling themselves.  Or perhaps the building would soon fall into a state of disrepair, since no money was provided for maintenance.  Either way, the village children had a small chance of receiving slightly more education than before.

In another example, Cambodia had traditionally guaranteed civil service posts to university graduates. This policy reflected two truths in pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodia:
1. French colonists created Cambodia’s first secondary schools in the mid-20th century specifically to meet their need for civil service assistants.
2. Not many Cambodians made it through elementary school, let alone university.

However, by the early 1990s, enrollment increases had made this policy an enormous drain on the budget. To decrease the bloated payroll, the government ordered in 1994 that graduates would no longer be guaranteed government posts. The need for new teachers could be easily met for a few years by transferring the civil servants who were qualified teachers but were currently working in superfluous administrative roles. Makes sense, right? Well, students didn’t agree. At graduation the following spring, the student speaker pleaded that the government renew its policy of job guarantees. The two prime ministers instantly agreed in order to look like the nice guys, promising to send all the graduates to the School of Pedagogy for a year to train them as secondary teachers. Despite the Minister of Education’s failed attempts to compromise (Cambodians don’t do that, remember?), all 1460 graduates were sent off to this school that lacked the space, faculty, or resources to train them for jobs that did not exist. The job guarantee was renewed again the next year.

Essentially, Cambodian education has reflected leaders’ complete apathy toward the needs of their people. The government used to spend only 8% of its budget on education, and committed in 1994 to increase it to 15% (a very necessary and reasonable amount) by 2000. But it never exceeded 12%, and by 1997 it had fallen back to 8%. Moreover, much of that sum never reached schools; it fattened the pockets of the few most powerful people in the ministry. Teacher salaries were often late and reduced. As a result, corruption was endemic. Teachers wasted students’ time during the school day and charged fees for “extracurricular” classes where they taught the content that would appear on the exams. Students could bribe exam administrators and proctors to turn a blind eye to cheating, or even to sell them the answer sheets. Most teachers held another job because they couldn’t possibly support a family on their meager wages; many sometimes missed school for their other job. Guess who suffered most? The students, who learned little except how to cheat to get ahead.

Auteur: 2followus

Passie voor zending I Leeft in Cambodja I Focus op: Kerk, Discipelschap, BAM (business as mission)

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