Traditional Cambodian art forms such as classical dance and music have been passed down throughout the generations as a way for children to learn and preserve the meaning of their culture. However, as the education sector changes, gaining knowledge of the arts at a young age is proving less essential for the Kingdom’s public schools.
According to Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts spokesman Thai Norak Satya, a state-run arts program for schools was the subject of a memorandum of understanding between the ministry, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Cambodian Living Arts in 2016. However, he noted the arts program had not yet been implemented across the public school system.
Satya however acknowledged the importance of arts education and hoped the arts program would be implemented soon.
“If we put a solid art education into the broader education system, I believe the younger generation will be more enriched as each individual will be able to express their Khmer identity,” he said.
With more than 20 years of experiences as an arts performer, Hang Phomara, who has completed a Bachelor of Arts from the Royal University of Fine Arts, said art had always been her favourite subject at school.
While Phomara loved the arts, she said she gets discouraged from time to time due to a lack of broader support for the industry, noting that there was one time when only one person sat down to watch her traditional Lakhon Khol performance.
“At times I have tried to train high school students [traditional Cambodian art] but sometimes their parents are not happy about this practice,” she said.
With no enforced school curriculum to teach Cambodian arts to students, Phomara said art programs at a primary and secondary level were important and should be included in the curriculum.
“I want to see an arts program in the state curriculum so we can better represent Cambodia when it comes to showing off abroad,” she said.
In 1991, the Krousar Thmey organisation set up five separate educational programs for vulnerable children as well as children with disabilities. Among the programs running is a cultural arts program.
Executive assistant of the cultural and arts development program at Krousar Thmey, Chour Darong, said all of its programs have a focus on classical art.
“In public schools, there is no mandatory teaching of art, so we try to add art classes here,” he said. The students learn everything from classical music to dance.
“We created this art school to enhance self-identity of the Khmer people and to promote Khmer culture to the younger generation as this is very important,” Darong added.
Darong believes cultural and artistic education should be a fundamental part of students educational learning, but remained unsure as to whether or not students knowledge of Khmer arts was decreasing.
“I can not say that Cambodian arts education is increasing or declining, but the fact that Cambodians are passionate about Khmer culture has long been a source of pride and inspiration for our international identity,” he said.
Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin did not respond to requests for comment.