After years of politically charged debate, Cambodia’s Education Ministry has approved plans to teach Khmer Rouge history in high schools, a move that will expose many young Cambodians for the first time to a detailed account of one of the country’s darkest chapters.
The ministry has authorized the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), an organization which has extensively investigated the regime, to train 1,000 teachers on how to present this sensitive era to students.
“At the end of 2009 all high school students will learn about the history of the Khmer Rouge,” DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang told the Post on May 12.
Until now, mention of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule over Cambodia was largely absent from school curriculums and most young Cambodians only heard about the atrocities committed by the regime from their relatives.
Up to two million people died of starvation, disease and overwork, or were executed as the Khmer Rouge sought to forge a radical agrarian utopia – emptying the country’s cities and forcing almost the entire population of Cambodia onto vast collective farms.
Cambodia’s government, which includes many former members of the ultra-communist regime, has appeared reluctant to resurrect the country’s painful past by allowing it to be taught in schools.
But many teachers have urged for more information about the Khmer Rouge years to be included in school lessons,
“I support and encourage Cambodian students to learn about the … the Khmer Rouge because Cambodian children have to know about the very painful history that their relatives and country suffered” said Chhun Sarum, director of Wat Koh High School.
Knowledge of Cambodia’s past would help the country’s younger generation prevent a similar upheaval, said Chea Vannath, the former head of the Center for Social Development, one of Cambodia’s key civil society groups.
“This is very good information for Cambodian students so that they have chance to study about their own history,” Vannath said.
“I think students will be shocked and some will get angry when they learn about Khmer Rouge, but this will help them to think about what they should do and not do for their country,” she added.
One high school student, 17-year-old Keo Molika, said she had only ever heard fragments of stories about the Khmer Rouge years from her parents, but was happy that the subject would soon be taught in school.
“I really want to know about this,” she said.