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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - French ITC funders to pay for English

French ITC funders to pay for English

T HE French funders of Phnom Penh's Institute of Technology will help pay for

English language lessons for students, following recent anti-French protests


The move is part of a government-negotiated settlement which

allowed classes to resume from May 16 after several weeks of


But dissent remains - a number of students are refusing to

attend their existing compulsory French language lessons.

Ouy Vanthon,

chairman of the institute's governing board, said that "more than a few"

students were taking part in the boycott. He would not be more


He believed the students involved - who were attending their

technology courses but not their French lessons - were being used by a few

"activists" among them. He was attempting to persuade them to end their


The institute's French funding had earlier been under threat of

withdrawal, as a group of students burnt effigies and tyres to protest at their

French administrators.

They made a list of demands, including that all

students learn their studies in English, and that equipment and textbooks be


The institute - where technical and engineering courses are

taught in Khmer or French, and all students are required to take French lessons

- has been granted $7 million in French aid for three years.

It is funded

by the French government and administered by AUPELF-UREF, a francophonie

association of foreign universities in countries where French is


Minister of Education Tol Lah, who headed negotiations with

AUPELF officials, said technology courses could continue to be taught in French

but all students had to be taught in English as a "language of


Under the settlement with AUPELF, all students would take

English classes from the next school year, beginning in September.


expected them to get 2-4 hours of English lessons a week.

Tol Lah said

the Ministry of Education would assign five Cambodian "professors of English" to

help run English courses, and was looking for a foreign ESL (English as a Second

Language) expert as well.

Ouy Vanthon said the five teachers, from the

University of Phnom Penh's foreign language department, would have their

government salaries topped up by between $70-90 a month by AUPELF.


Lah said the deal was in line with AUPELF's original funding contract with the

government, which included a paragraph about ESL lessons for


Currently, according to institute staff, students receive

one-and-a-half hours of English lessons a week but Tol Lah wants that


The minister said he accepted that AUPELF could not bow to the

protesters' demands for their technical studies be taught in English, as that

was not provided for in its contract with the government.

"I asked AUPELF

'Can you teach in English, yes or no'. They said no. They are supposed to teach

in French. They say if we force them to do otherwise, they have to withdraw

their aid."

In fact, only a small proportion of the institute's students

- 180 first-year students - are taught in French under a French-developed


The 850 others, second to fifth year students, are taught in

Khmer under the old curriculum of the institute's former Russian


Each new intake of first-year students will be taught under the

new system, while the older students will continue under the Russian curriculum

until they graduate.

Ouy Vanthon said it was mainly the fifth year

students - who felt "they don't know anything and can't read the [foreign

language] books" - who had been protesting.

The institute was to improve

their training and equipment but it was still only in the "first phase" of its

French administration.



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