Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - $500,000 a year

$500,000 a year

$500,000 a year

Dear Editor,

I read Etienne Clement's reply to Dr. Innes-Brown's article on "What would you

do with $500,000 a year?" (PPP, Vol.10/N. 26) with amazement. Sorry, I tell

a lie-it was exactly the feeble response that I expected from a senior UNESCO representative.

Clement completely failed to address a single one of Innes-Brown's allegations. He

vaguely mentioned "independent evaluations" of the project without telling

us who the independent evaluators were or how they carried out their evaluations.

He also forgot to tell us that the Department of Architecture is in a state of total

chaos. Why did he do that?

I know nothing about the Fine Arts, but my specialty is physics and the teaching

of physics, and seven years ago I was naïve enough to assist in the development

of the physics curriculum for secondary science education in Cambodia "organised"

by UNESCO. The main reason for my naivete was that I understood that the letters

E and S in UNESCO stood for Science and Education, and anyone who believes that deserves

all he gets. (I seriously suggest that UNESCO be renamed UNCO, since the organisation

is totally underskilled - staff wise - to be involved in science education.

I have never seen such a potentially important project mismanaged to the extent that

that one was. At best it produced nothing at all, but at worst it produced teaching

material that was substantially more useless than the existing material. I shouldn't

really say that the project was mismanaged-it wasn't managed at all at any stage,

and if the fat cats in the UNCO office really believe that it was, then they should

be replaced. For the full year that I was involved with the project there was almost

no liasion between the teachers at ground level and the fat cats in the UNCO office.

We produced a curriculum of sorts, completely irrelevant to Cambodia's needs (because

we were being interfered with by the aforesaid fat cats), and I submitted it to UNICEF

as a first draft for evaluation only, (for reasons that were clear to me, since UNICEF

only has a mandate for the education of children), and after a wait of several months,

and repeated efforts to obtain some response from someone (anyone!), that was it,

full stop. No evaluation whatever. Why? Because nobody in the UNCO or UNICEF offices

is qualified to carry out the evaluation!

Some years later I was asked to do a follow-up report on the project, which had advanced

to the production of textbooks, (but based on what curriculum, since ours was never

evaluated or accepted?). I managed to get a copy of the newer than new curriculum

which (a) had no relation whatever to the one we had produced after 18 months hard

slog, and (b) was a profoundly shabby document that I could have produced in 3 hours

if I were silly enough to do so. I also managed to get a copy of the new mathematics

curriculum which had the unusual property of not having a single reference to science,

particularly to the physical sciences, in spite of the fact that the language of

physics is mathematics.

With the complete lack of genuinely trained and competent engineers in Cambodia there

is surely a vital need for an immediate upgrading of the teaching of mathematics

and science to provide the essential foundations for engineering studies. Cambodia

is sorely in need of qualified and competent (not the same thing) engineers, but

there is no such thing as a competent engineer who has little or no knowledge and

understanding of mathematics and science. At present Cambodian "engineers"

are the guys digging holes in the mud, while the real engineers (from other countries)

are ensconced in air-conditioned offices running the engineering projects.

The signal failure of UNCO in this project has had a major influence in keeping this

country dumb in the fields of mathematics, science and engineering, because the foundational

knowledge just is not being provided to some very bright students in the secondary

school system. Why?

- Jerry Walter, ex-physics teacher