D onn Viet Village- Most of the 1,600 members of this Kompong Chhang riverside
village, about 30 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, celebrated last month the
opening of the first school the village has had in nearly 25 years.
years, the village has made do with the informal educational system known
throughout the country as "The people who know more teach the people who know
less," according to Education Minister Tol Lah who opened the
Although the school in Donn Viet, with its five government-paid
schoolteachers and a basic curriculum of reading, arithmetic, drawing and
science, marks a vast improvement over the situation existing over the last two
decades, the school isn't going to solve the educational problems. even in this
small village, Tol Lah said. The school's five classrooms can accomodate only
the first three grades, or about half the school-age children in the village.
After passing grade three, children must go upriver to Kampong Chhnang to
In a country where education is valued more highly where
it is compulsory, the village might use its school more effectively by adding
double shifts, with younger children attending in the morning, and older ones in
the afternoon. But double sessions haven't caught on in Cambodia, apparently
with the teachers, Tol Lah said. "That would solve the problem. But I don't dare
suggest it," he said.
For more than a year since he became minister of
education, Tol Lah has been lobbying to improve education in a country where he
says not one but two generations of teachers have been lost. In the last two
years, he says, "about 5,000 classrooms have been repaired or built. We need ten
He said Cambodian children are receiving 2,000 to 3,000
hours of education, or the equivalent of a fourth or fifth grade education. "The
international standard to go on to secondary school is 7,000 to 9,000
Nor are teachers properly trained. Cambodia lost a generation of
teachers to the Khmer Rouge, and the generation that followed, while working
hard against long odds since 1980 to improve things, hasn't much to offer.
"Thirty percent of these primary school teachers did not complete eighth grade,"
he said. "But you cannot kick them out."
He is scornful of the level of
government spending on education. "Eight percent of the national budget is for
education. Japan spent nearly all of its budget on education after World War II.
Should I wait five years for the economy to grow before I conduct a reform of
education? The kids cannot wait," he said.
Tol Lah is relying on
international help. Last Dec 7, he presented a plan for a $150 million education
reform plan to international donors, asking for help.
have rebuilt several dozen schools in the past few years. The Donn Viet school
shows, said a UNICEF official, that aid can be found when the motivation is
strong enough. The school was built largely through the fundraising efforts of
Sam Borin, who was born in Donn Viet in 1954 and got his early education there
before the old school was destroyed.
Sam Borin, who works as a General
Assembly liason for the Asia Foundation in Phnom Penh, said he began fundraising
when villagers approached him about two years ago. "The people in the village
saw the disaster in education. They were so unhappy. The district people refused
to send teachersbecause there was no school," said Sam.
Sam said the
villagers had formed a construction committee and were attempting to raise more
money by asking families to pledge 2,000 riel per month. After a few months it
became clear they were going to need more. UNICEF agreed to provide about
$6,000; some individual US donors put in $3,000 and the World Food Program
"paid" school builders in food.
The total cost was about $30,000, much
higher than the average, because of extraordinary concrete foundation work
required by the village's location on a steep hillside.
Sam said: "I am
the only person from my village (still alive) to have an education," he said. "I
am so proud."