Our Kingdom’s flag is considered the heart and soul of the nation, but recently, why are young Cambodians expressing a sense of shame when asked to sing our national anthem?
Just a few years ago, any of us walking past a school gate at 7:00am or 5:00pm would hear a chorus of student voices sing the national anthem, tidied up in a formal queue.
However, this sight is rare to come by these days as schools only enforce singing the anthem on Monday mornings and Saturday afternoons.
According to Chea Cheat, Deputy Director of the Department of Education in Phnom Penh, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport requires that high schools have their students sign the national anthem two times a week. The purpose behind this, he said, is to avoid cutting in to students’ study hours.
But as schools cut down on having their students sing the national anthem, students are forgetting it.
Most young Cambodians only know the first part of the song, and improvise the rest of the song – the Nor Kor Reach, composed by Choun Nath, in three parts.
And while many queue up and improvise their way through the anthem, other students skip out on the twice-a-week event. Instead, they’ll leave school early to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing the lyrics.
Mony Roth, a 15-year-old-girl studying at Chak Ang Re High School, said that she hasn’t known the words to the national anthem since she began studying there. She tries to find ways to avoid queuing up.
“I don’t like to join in singing the national anthem because the teachers approach me and I get tired from standing for so long,” Roth said. “Sometimes, if I’m late to school, I end up being locked out if the event is going on.”
Pheng Sovannara, director of Boeung Trabek High School, said that high school students shouldn’t spend so much time singing the national anthem since they were dedicated to learning it in primary school.
“High school students are not able to forget our national anthem easily because they always sang it throughout primary school,” he said. “We have art class, which continues to teach them about the national anthem as well.”
Cinemas, too, have stopped leaving time preceding the movie to sing the national anthem. Cinemas have cited customers being unhappy with having to stand for so long, and also, not knowing the words.
Vay Vebol, a consultant for the Ministry of Cult and Religion, said that respecting the Cambodian flag demonstrates respect to the nation.
He continued that respecting the nation equates with respecting oneself – therefore, the loss of our national anthem means that Cambodians are not only losing respect for their country, but also for themselves.
“Thailand is a country that is very dutiful to their national music – they always stand up whenever they hear the national anthem,” he said. “Thus, teachers, students, ministries and citizens of all classes should start to value our national anthem again as we care for our country’s soul.”
For this week’s Constructive Cambodian, I advise that we don’t forget the old saying we learned in primary school: “If our culture is spoiled, then our nation is spoiled – our culture is wealthy so our nation is wealthy as well.” So why be shy when it comes to singing our national anthem? Our culture is unique in how much we love our country, so let’s prove that we’re proud to be Cambodian.