Cambodia and China have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the joint development of Chinese language curricula in public secondary schools in the Kingdom, with 20 high schools having been selected for the pilot phase of the programme.

A signing ceremony was held between Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron and Chinese ambassador Wang Wentian on November 9.

The MoU was one of 18 documents signed between Cambodia and China in a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha told The Post on November 10 that his ministry would establish a commission which would work with the Chinese side to develop the curricula.

“The MoU … is an agreement to begin the pilot programme. Initially, it will be rolled out in two or three provinces,” he said, adding that the ministry would release more details at a later date.

Cambodian Independent Teachers Association president Ouk Chhayavy said that establishing foreign language studies was an excellent step, but suggested caution.

“It is possible that if we immerse ourselves in a different language and culture, we may lose our own identity,” she said.

“Acquiring language skills is an excellent use of stud, especially when we use those skills to serve the motherland, but we must be wary of losing our independence. We were under the influence of a foreign power in the past, remember,” she added.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the signing of the MoU on the inclusion of Chinese in the curriculum was a positive development for Cambodia. In order for the programme to be fruitful, he suggested that the Chinese side support appropriate educational techniques at the pilot schools.

“Chinese language training is not uncommon at this level. Take Singapore for example. It is the strongest economy in ASEAN, and high school students have long learned three languages: English, Chinese and Malay. We should also remember that China today is different from China of World War II or the Cold War. It is now the second-largest economy in the world and a political powerhouse. Surely Chinese language training will be beneficial to Cambodia, both economically and politically,” he added.

He said that historically, many Cambodians have had an unofficial Chinese association for a long time.

“We know that many people are already receiving an informal education in the subject, and we also know that formal instruction is superior from a scientific point of view, so I cannot see a downside to introducing it,” he added.

He noted that Cambodians already accepted foreign language training in the state curriculum, with English being taught from the third grade.

“We have accepted formal training since the informal lessons of the UNTAC era. In the same way, we should accept how useful a higher standard of Chinese will be,” he said, referring to the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia.

Recently, the education ministry agreed in principle to establish a Department of Vietnamese or Basic Vietnamese at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). This will facilitate the exchange of scholarship students between the two countries, and establish stronger cooperation in the field of education.

Two foreign languages are currently included in the state curriculum: English and French.