T HE French funders of Phnom Penh's Institute of Technology will help pay for
English language lessons for students, following recent anti-French protests
The move is part of a government-negotiated settlement which
allowed classes to resume from May 16 after several weeks of
But dissent remains - a number of students are refusing to
attend their existing compulsory French language lessons.
chairman of the institute's governing board, said that "more than a few"
students were taking part in the boycott. He would not be more
He believed the students involved - who were attending their
technology courses but not their French lessons - were being used by a few
"activists" among them. He was attempting to persuade them to end their
The institute's French funding had earlier been under threat of
withdrawal, as a group of students burnt effigies and tyres to protest at their
They made a list of demands, including that all
students learn their studies in English, and that equipment and textbooks be
The institute - where technical and engineering courses are
taught in Khmer or French, and all students are required to take French lessons
- has been granted $7 million in French aid for three years.
It is funded
by the French government and administered by AUPELF-UREF, a francophonie
association of foreign universities in countries where French is
Minister of Education Tol Lah, who headed negotiations with
AUPELF officials, said technology courses could continue to be taught in French
but all students had to be taught in English as a "language of
Under the settlement with AUPELF, all students would take
English classes from the next school year, beginning in September.
expected them to get 2-4 hours of English lessons a week.
Tol Lah said
the Ministry of Education would assign five Cambodian "professors of English" to
help run English courses, and was looking for a foreign ESL (English as a Second
Language) expert as well.
Ouy Vanthon said the five teachers, from the
University of Phnom Penh's foreign language department, would have their
government salaries topped up by between $70-90 a month by AUPELF.
Lah said the deal was in line with AUPELF's original funding contract with the
government, which included a paragraph about ESL lessons for
Currently, according to institute staff, students receive
one-and-a-half hours of English lessons a week but Tol Lah wants that
The minister said he accepted that AUPELF could not bow to the
protesters' demands for their technical studies be taught in English, as that
was not provided for in its contract with the government.
"I asked AUPELF
'Can you teach in English, yes or no'. They said no. They are supposed to teach
in French. They say if we force them to do otherwise, they have to withdraw
In fact, only a small proportion of the institute's students
- 180 first-year students - are taught in French under a French-developed
The 850 others, second to fifth year students, are taught in
Khmer under the old curriculum of the institute's former Russian
Each new intake of first-year students will be taught under the
new system, while the older students will continue under the Russian curriculum
until they graduate.
Ouy Vanthon said it was mainly the fifth year
students - who felt "they don't know anything and can't read the [foreign
language] books" - who had been protesting.
The institute was to improve
their training and equipment but it was still only in the "first phase" of its