Several teachers from Boeung Trabek High School demanded yesterday that the government altogether stop the development of Cambodia’s long-awaited genocide studies institute on their school grounds while officials offered them “encouragement bonuses” meant to hasten the building’s construction.
The teachers handed a petition to Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports representatives as the officials doled out the $600 they had offered to each of the school’s nearly 200 educators.
The petition, which had 163 signatories, outlined their refusal of the payments and requested the ministry halt its plan to build the Sleuk Rith Institute, which was designed by prominent architect Zaha Hadid.
The institute will not displace the teachers, and is set to be built on a 4,800-square-metre plot of government-owned land that houses an unused, dilapidated building that is part of the school. A new unit has already been constructed to replace the old building.
“We don’t even want to take any payments anymore,” said English teacher Pech Seakleng, as he walked out of the meeting with ministry officials along with several other teachers. “We think it’s a good idea but we just want to protect the land and stop the ministry from creating the institute here because our school is growing and having the big building here will take away space for children to learn.”
Last Wednesday, some teachers appealed to the ministry to increase the bonuses to $5,000 per teacher. The ministry, however, has repeatedly denied the request.
“They asked for money when they heard about the project, and we gave them concessions because we don’t want any problems,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said. “I’m very disappointed because they’re not looking at the project as something that is for the public good.”
He added that the institute, which will comprise a museum, graduate school, research centre, library and archives, will not displace the students, but instead, encourage further learning.
According to Chuon Naron, the ministry has also earmarked $1 million to beautify the school’s landscape and create sports facilities for the students.
“This is going to be a state-of-the-art building that will help them research human rights, not just nationally, but also internationally, so no, it will not negatively impact the students,” he said.
The minister was unable to confirm the final tally of the teachers that accepted the money, but Seakleng said some of the teachers who signed the petition still opted to take the cash.
One teacher, who accepted the bonus and asked to remain anonymous, said he was looking forward to having the institute nearby.
“We have no right to protest about this in the first place because it’s government land,” he said. “If they’re building a bad place like a club then I can understand that. But this is a good idea for everyone.”
Some Boeung Trabek High School students agreed, saying that having a massive library a stone’s throw away will help them improve in their studies.
“We have a very small library here so it will be great,” said grade 12 student Am Rithy Chan. “The only problem is that it would probably take a long time to construct, and it will bring a lot of noise to the school.”
The Sleuk Rith Institute is scheduled for groundbreaking in early 2015 and the project could take up to three years to complete.