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Teachers demand cash for institute

An artist’s impression of the Sleuk Rith Institute that would be built in Phnom Penh.
An artist’s impression of the Sleuk Rith Institute that would be built in Phnom Penh. Photo Supplied

Teachers demand cash for institute

More than 100 teachers from Boeung Trabek High School are demanding that the government increase a payment to them due to what they characterise as their contribution to a plot of land that has been designated as the site of Cambodia’s much-anticipated genocide studies institute.

Though the Sleuk Rith Institute, spearheaded by the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), will not displace the teachers, and though they do not own the land that the project will occupy, 126 of the school’s nearly 200 teachers are demanding that a $600 “encouragement” bonus offered to each teacher by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports be upped to a whopping $5,000.

However, Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said yesterday that the teachers’ request is unwarranted, and that the $600 is simply to “encourage them to cooperate with the building” of the Sleuk Rith Institute.

The imposing, Angkor-inspired edifice will comprise a museum, graduate school, research centre, library and document archives. Its design is being carried out by the prominent architect Zaha Hadid.

The institute is set to be built on a 4,800-square-metre plot of government-owned land that houses an unused and dilapidated building that was formerly a part of Boeung Trabek High School. A new unit has been constructed to replace the old building.

Though most of the 126 teachers support the institute’s creation, they have nonetheless signed a petition asking the government to award them $5,000 each for their work in developing the land.

“Some of us have taught here for more than 20 years and took care of the land, so $600 is very cheap,” a teacher, who requested anonymity and has taught in the school since 1987, said. “We spent so much time helping build the school into what it is now, so we think it’s only fair.”

But their request has been repeatedly denied by the Ministry of Education, citing that the teachers are not entitled to more compensation because they’re not the land’s legal owners.

“They have no ownership claim over it … and in fact, they have no right to ask for more money because the $600 we’re offering is just a bonus, an encouragement,” Salin said. “By doing this, they’ve turned something good into a political matter.”

Apart from the compensation, some teachers say they fear the institute might later displace students and turn the quiet high school into a chaotic complex.

“The money is important, but at the same time, we don’t want Boeung Trabek to become like Tuol Sleng, where there are a lot of people coming in and out and it will be hard for students to learn and do activities,” said one teacher, who has worked in the school for 25 years and wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.

DC-Cam director Youk Chhang disagreed, saying that the institute would instead become a hub of learning.

“This will give students more access to research and history unlike before, so I’m very sad that they don’t see that this is the future of our country,” Chhang said. “As teachers, they should understand better when we’ve had less-educated villagers who have given us a couple of thousand riel as donations to the institute.”

According to Salin, the Ministry of Education plans to visit the school on Monday and offer the teachers $600.

“If they don’t take it, we will still proceed with the construction anyway, because what we’re doing conforms to the law,” Salin said.

The Sleuk Rith Institute is scheduled for groundbreaking in early 2015.

As a part of the project, DC-Cam has plans to rebuild another crumbling building at the high school’s south side and provide landscaping for the area.

The cost of the donor-funded project is still under evaluation, Chhang said, but he added that it’s set for completion after two to three years.

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