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Shoring up the foundations

Shoring up the foundations

090810_05
Old versus new: Crumbling modernist architecture from the country’s 1960s heyday meets a contemporary eyesore.

Veteran architect Vann Molyvann says Cambodian engineers working abroad should return home to help improve engineering education and development.

Though Cambodia has 180 engineers who have been certified by the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations (AFEO), Vann Molyvann, the Kingdom's most famous architect, says there is much to be done to bring Cambodian engineering up to international standards.

"The shortage of facilities, materials, and especially well-experienced professors are the main problem for Cambodian students who want to become engineers," he told the Post on Sunday.

Vann Molyvann was at the forefront of the New Khmer Architecture movement that flourished under the patronage of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s and 1960s.

He is responsible for many of Phnom Penh's most iconic structures, including Independence Monument and the National Sports Complex. Now 82 years old, he has worked abroad for much of his professional life, but resettled permanently in Cambodia in 1993.

Of 1,230 engineering graduates who took the AFEO exam this year, only 180 were certified, according to Prak Min, secretary general of the Board of Engineers, Cambodia (BEC). At a meeting on Thursday of the BEC, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An urged the group to train more engineers who meet AFEO requirements.

Prak Min said that Cambodian engineers compare favourably with those of other countries in the region, though he acknowledged that there is more work to be done.

Punching above its weight
Cambodia has more AFEO-certified architects than Laos or Myanmar, a number similar to Malaysia's, he said. Education and training issues, however, remain a challenge.

"Most of our students who graduate from engineering programmes need at least five to seven years of work experience before they can meet professional standards, but right now we have a shortage of jobs for them," Prak Min said.

He added that engineering students particularly need to improve their computer skills and their international language abilities, citing English and French in particular.

Civil society groups, Vann Molyvann argued, may play a role in reinvigorating Cambodian engineering.

Prior to the Khmer Rouge era, Cambodian students often took advantage of scholarships or government aid to study abroad - Vann Molyvann himself studied architecture in France.

But although increased international experience is one element that may improve the skills of Cambodian engineers, Vann Molyvann emphasised that domestic improvements, including the construction of new universities and the improvement of existing ones, would do the greatest good for the largest number of students. International donors, he said, should focus on these domestic projects as they work to address the education gap.

The architect added that Cambodia's turbulent past few decades have held back the development of engineering programmes.

Many of the Kingdom's most skilled professionals fled the country while the Khmer Rouge devastated most of the best Cambodian universities and training institutes, he said.

"In this situation, I call for all the Cambodian engineers who have fled abroad to please return to Cambodia to develop the craft and teach the people of the next generation to be skillful engineers like them," he said.

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