C AMBODIAN children are currently being taught about World War Two and the Nazi
holocaust but not about their own country's more recent genocide.
the election, Cambodia's schools have stopped teaching about the Khmer Rouge.
The little-known shift in policy was brought to protect young children
from the "cruelty and barbarism" of the regime and because the government has
not yet figured out how it wants to teach history, says a senior Education
Ministry official who asked not to be named.
"Now history is difficult
for us, because of the change of regime, we have to write history according to
the new regime," the official said, adding educators are waiting for a clear
message from government.
"It's extremely political, with both CPP and
Funcinpec," which have widely divergent opinions about how history should be
taught, explains George Taylor, a British educator advising the
The result is that while teachers wait for the new lesson
plans, many of the more than two million school children in Cambodia - although
they generally know the name Pol Pot - have to turn elsewhere to learn about
what happened between 1975 an 1979.
"The Khmer Rouge? They live in the
jungle. They cut logs. They kill villagers, rob villagers. They plant mines,"
said 11-year-old Nok Sothea.
Where did he learn that? "Television."
Som Bora, also age 11, said he has learned all about Pol Pot from his
"They killed all the people who had learned a lot, and then the
people who could not read and write were made the heads of the village," he said
quietly, frowning. Now, "they kill intellectuals and they rob peoples' property
to buy ammunition."
Adding to the confusion about the curriculum, King
Norodom Sihanouk has called on citizens to strive for "national reconciliation."
The old policy of the previous Vietnam-backed State of Cambodia
government, which used intensive lessons on the Khmer Rouge as a propaganda tool
to maintain national anger, simply does not fit in with the policy of
reconciliation, the education official said.
Between 1980 and 1993
children from the age of seven "had lessons of the Khmer Rouge time. They taught
them of the torture and the killing and they put photos on the walls," says Top
Siv Hun, head of the English department at Chak Angre school in Phnom
"The lesson was to make them angry with the Khmer Rouge. But they
were not angry - they wanted to act like the Khmer Rouge," she said, describing
schoolyard war games in which some children would 'execute' their classmates.
Dropping Pol Pot from lessons, at least in the younger grades, has made
the schoolyards more peaceful, the education official said.
want to show to the pupils what happened in the Pol Pot regime... we were afraid
about the psychological impact on the children," he said.
a research fellow at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,
says it is vital that Cambodia develop a clear and detailed history curriculum,
especially in senior grades and at the post-secondary level.
government must teach the youth about the country's history, and how to
critically analyze it. It is an essential ingredient for peaceful relations
between the governors and the governed," said Sorpong, who is currently
researching Cambodia and its impact on regional security.
Minister Tol Lah says it is the government's intention to put the Khmer Rouge
back in the history lessons.
"One thing you can be sure of is we are
going to be teaching history according to what happened," he said, adding that
some teaching about the Khmer Rouge may still be taking place "on the initiative
of individual teachers."
Says English teacher Top Siv Hun: "It should be
included, but not for younger children. Maybe it should start in lower high