The US Institute of Peace on Wednesday announced the completion of a program – conducted by the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) – to train an additional 600 educators to teach Khmer Rouge history in the Kingdom’s secondary schools.
In a statement issued yesterday, Katherine Wood, a grant adviser for USIP, said she hoped the $120,000 project would help to “heal the profound divisions in Cambodia that have persisted between survivors and perpetrators for the last four decades”.
Despite the influx of new teachers, DC-Cam director Youk Chhang said yesterday that additional financial support is needed to help the coursework to move beyond the “platform” level and bring a dialogue on – and ultimately the practice of – human rights and democracy to Asean nations.
“We are not learning history to be obsessed by it, or enslaved by it,” he said, “but to be free.”
DC-Cam pushed for the introduction of a genocide curriculum in Cambodian classrooms for seven years before the government acquiesced in 2009, making A History of Democratic Kampuchea a compulsory text for grades seven through 12. And while an estimated 1 million students have been exposed to the course, a limited number of qualified teachers and inadequate materials have hindered the project’s success, Chhang said.
“Right now, genocide education is a foundation, it’s a platform. It’s not really genocide education yet,” explained Chhang. “This process is very fragile.”
In 2012, a DC-Cam quality control study discovered that while teachers and students found the material easy to understand and unbiased, many of the 3,000 teachers trained were under-qualified to generate discussion (fewer than 40 per cent had university degrees). Additionally, there was “little evidence of actual learning” occurring. Several teachers said they feared teaching the material in the classroom.
Chhang recalled a history teacher who refused to teach the material and resigned. One of her arms was shrunken at her side, the result of having an IV of coconut juice injected into it as a child under the regime.
“She said ‘look at my arm’,” Chhang said, pointing to his own. “For her, it is very emotional.”