While I thoroughly agree with Mr Ayres that the deeper characteristics of the educational
system in Cambodia are not due to its recent history alone, or even principally,
there are two points I should like to make.
The habit of learning everything by rote, of merely listening to teachers whether
they were good, bad or indifferent, is one that prevailed in Belgium when I was a
pupil, then a student here, in the 60s and 70s Whereas I found this infuriating and
did all in my power to subvert it, I was almost equally bemused by the diametrically
opposed system which I later encountered in the United States, where many students
seemed to think that they were not there to listen at all, but to expound their own
often jejune views.
I'm not sure that modern (or post-modern) system was based on problem-solving or
decision-making, it seemed to have so much to do with cockiness, bluff and self-marketing
... which I suppose is a form of decision and problem management - the presentational,
packaging form, so prevalent in our "modern" world.
This leads me to my second point: what we arrogantly, naively call "the"
modern, "the" development of benighted Third-World countries, is a recent
development within our own problem-riddled "First-World" countries (and
primarily, one particularly problematic country), a development out of a more tradition-oriented
approach which we recently shared (though to be sure, there were numerous differences)
with Cambodia and other "backward" countries.
What has only prevailed in our world for some 30 or 40 years (with no doubt some
earlier manifestations, Rousseau et al.) may or may not be established, legitimate,
efficacious in our not entirely successful societies, but are we so sure of its value
that we feel we ought to, and are entitled to, spread it, in however "indigenised"
(!!!) a form, all over the world?
This point is of course not in the least original: it is an aspect of the general
question as to whether the development ideology is a newish avatar of the "white
man's burden" or "mission civilisatrice" ideologies of the 19th century...
the plundering concealed behind it being of the globalised, not the national-colonialist
form. Perhaps at least more effort should be made to study what there may be in the
"fonds khmer" or its later indianised transformations that can lead Cambodia
on its own way into the fabled 21st century.
Philippe Hunt, Brussels, Belgium