Hun Manet, a future prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), requested that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport cooperate with international private educational institutions to strengthen their Khmer language curriculums, along with increasing instruction in Cambodian ethics and traditions.

Manet, who is also deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), made the suggestion at a February 12 ceremony to announce the composition of the new board of the Federation of Education Services in Cambodia and to reward the outstanding teachers and staff of 2022.

“I ask that the ministry consider this quite seriously. At some international schools, there are Cambodian children who do not know their Khmer language – it is their mother tongue and the official language. Therefore, I implore minister Hang Chuon Naron to make sure British, American or Canadian schools include a Khmer language element from primary until grade 12,” he said.

In addition to proposing the inclusion of a Khmer language curriculum, Manet also suggested that cultural traditions be taught more widely.

“I have seen Cambodian children who were born in the US arguing with their father when they disagreed, and I believe this is also happening in the Kingdom. Cambodian children who are taught the correct way would never do such a thing. Human rights are important, of course, but cultural traditions are a part of our identity,” he said.

“Respect for elders, morals and respect are soft skills. If people lose their identity and their culture, what do they have? Please do not let Khmer children forget their culture and their language,” he added.

He warned of the dangers of such a path.

“If the next generation loses their Khmer identity, culture and morality, how will they advise their children? Any well-rounded curriculum must the development of a strong Khmer identity. A culture of morality and respect does not have to be inconsistent with modernisation,” he said.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, supported Manet’s statements, and suggested that action should have been taken sooner.

“If Cambodian children study at an international school in their own country but don’t understand their own national language, what will they do in the future? If they don’t know their own language and culture, how could they lead or work?” he asked.

“Most of the children who study at international schools are from wealthy or influential families, and may become leaders in the future. It could be very dangerous to have leaders who do not understand the soul of the people. A law should be passed that all international schools, regardless of their level, must include Khmer as a first language,” he said.

He believed it was not too late to introduce this requirement into law.