EDUCATION Minister Im Sethy on Thursday marked 30 years of development in education since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in a speech that contrasted the sector’s humble beginnings with what he described as its “proudly developed” present state.
Speaking at the National Institute of Education, Im Sethy detailed the dearth of resources facing the sector in 1979. He said only 15 percent of professors, teachers and other intellectuals survived the Khmer Rouge years, during which people who were proficient in a foreign language or wore glasses were among those targeted for execution.
“Although we worked with empty hands and overcame many difficulties and challenges, we managed to establish the Ministry of Education on February 15, 1979,” less than two months after the Khmer Rouge were toppled by the Vietnamese, he said. The ministry, then headed by Chan Ven, held its first opening ceremony on September 24, 1979.
Im Sethy recalled a slogan from the period: “The educated will teach the uneducated, and the more-educated will teach the less-educated.”
To that end, all literate Cambodians, including “oxcart pullers returning to Phnom Penh”, were actively recruited, he said.
“As far as classrooms and schools were concerned, in addition to the use of broken schools left over from the destruction of the Khmer Rouge, teaching and learning were undertaken in ... temples, under people’s houses, under trees and on ... paddy dams,” he said.
He also described the curriculum as composed “in an urgent manner day and night” by teachers facing “very poor” living standards.
The sector today
Im Sethy pointed to the current state of education in Cambodia as demonstrating significant national development.
He said today’s sector was “proudly developed in terms of both quantity and quality, with the support and assistance of the Royal Government of Cambodia, national and international communities, and donors under the responsible policies of Samdech Hun Sen, our greatest leader”.
Im Samrithy, executive director of the NGO Education Partnership, a networking organisation that facilitates communication between the government and education NGOs, attended the speech and said he largely agreed, though he noted that there was vast room for improvement.
“If you try to compare education 30 years ago and now, we’ve improved,” he said. “But as we improved and tried to survive from scratch, the world was also moving forward.”
He said Cambodia now lags behind developed countries as well as neighbouring countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam, in terms of school quality.
In a speech last March that coincided with an annual review of the sector’s performance, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on officials to enhance school quality, particularly at higher-education institutions, while improving on the enrolment gains seen in recent years.
He called master’s and PhD programmes “too easy”, saying: “Some master’s and PhD students cannot type on computers.”