Standing in orderly rows early in the morning in crisp white shirts and black trousers, students watch the red and blue national flag adorned with the beautiful image of Angkor Wat slowly rise up a flag pole. It’s time to salute the flag at Hun Sen Khlaing Leu High School.
The scene is tidy and the students appear disciplined. If we observe each student’s hair, we see that each male has almost the same short, neat haircut, and each female has their hair tied back in an orderly manner.
A 14-year-old boy Ly Chung An, whose hair is cut short and neat, told The Post that he was in grade 9 at the school, located in Commune I’s Village 2 of Preah Sihanouk province.
The young man said he was pleased that the school required him, as well as all other male students from grades 7 to 12, to cut their hair in the same style.
Chung An thinks the short cuts are not a punishment, but a requirement from the principal that ensures good order in the school.
“In the past, the school did not require male students to have the same hairstyle, but in July, the new rule was introduced. The haircut contributes to motivating me to love learning, but students have to pay 8,000 riel for the cut. The school pays for those who cannot afford it,” he said.
One of his classmates, Hak Vichet Mongkul, voiced a similar opinion.
“The new requirement is good, because we don’t need to think about changing our hairstyle. My parents also support the regulation,” he said.
Si Vuthy, a grade 9 teacher, told The Post that the school principal had discussed the decision with his staff before introducing the rule.
He added that the short haircut was intended to encourage students to respect the rules of the school. It also meant that people would recognise the students of the school by their haircuts.
He said most students were happy with the decision, although a small minority were not.
He, like the other teachers, has explained to them that a short haircut is appropriate, as they are still in school.
“In the past, teachers would advise boys with long hair to get a haircut, but it was not always strictly enforced. Some students still had long hair, so the school agreed to have a hairdresser cut all of them in the same style, but according to the shape of the students’ faces. If a student has an accident, the school will get the information quickly as the police will recognise them instantly as a student of Hun Sen Khlaing Leu High School,” he said.
“After the Covid-19 lockdowns ended, all students returned to school, but their discipline had decreased,” he added.
Sok Linda, whose daughter is in grade 9, said she did not have a son, but supported the policy. She added that if the school had haircut preferences, they should just go for it.
She requested that the school principal require all female students to tie their hair high and wear red or blue ribbons, but please use the school budget.
“If my daughter refuses to follow the school’s regulations, please let me know, and I will take her to get her hair cut. I have told her to follow the rules, as they are set for her benefit,” she said.
However, according to Linda, when she picks her daughter up from school, she often sees some of the female students with their let hair down or wearing bright red lipstick, which makes them look like vampires.
“Some of them have tattoos on their hands or legs, which is not appropriate for a student. Some of the male students even wear earrings. They often drive the wrong way down the street when they leave school,” she said.
“The school has set up a telegram group to communicate with parents. I heard a voice message from one mother telling a teacher to discipline her children as she is busy working. I was disappointed when I heard this, because if she can’t discipline her own children, how can a teacher with hundreds of students? She obviously dedicates herself to making money to support her children, but has no time to take care of them. I don’t spend my life making money for my children, but I make enough to send them to school so they will acquire the knowledge they will need to support themselves in the future,” she said.
Sieng Rim, principal of the high school, told The Post that two to three months before he implemented the rule, he informed parents and guardians. At the same time, he consulted with teachers.
“Since the Covid-19 outbreak, our students studied online from home. When students returned to in-class study, some student’s morals had decreased. I decided that we needed to strengthen their discipline so they respected themselves and others. Once the students respect the school’s internal rules, they will apply themselves to studying harder,” he said.
“Introducing the new haircuts was a little difficult at first, and we got criticism from some parents too. I wanted the student to have good discipline, so we went on with our plan. They will soon get used to their short hair,” he said.
He said the new system will run more smoothly from August, when the school will have its own hairdresser. At first, the school hired one from outside, who charged 8,000 riel per cut. The full-time school barber would charge just 6,000 riel. The school would pay for poor students.
Preah Sihanouk provincial education department director Ouch Sophea told The Post that students were obliged to abide by school rules and regulations. A designated hairstyle was also a good way to discipline ‘gangster’ students who dyed their hair or wore it long and untidy.
“Students who study hard and respect discipline do not worry about their hair; the important thing is to focus on academics. Discipline is needed to acquire both knowledge and attitude they will need to become good citi ens,” she said.
Ros Soveacha, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, told The Post that the quality of the management and teachers of educational institutions has a huge effect on the quality of education throughout Cambodia.
He said the Law on Education stipulates the observance of ethics and the observance of internal rules. Students must adhere to the internal regulations of educational institutions, gender equity values, and respect the rights of others to improve their physical and mental health and academic results.
“Teachers play an important role in promoting morality and respect for internal rule, and through their teaching they provide students with the skills they will need to participate in the development of the Cambodian economy,” he said.