The Ministry of Education aims to broaden university curricula by providing more instruction on social and cultural topics
The Accredidation Committee of Cambodia (ACC), overseen by the Council of Ministers, has informed deans and directors of the Kingdom’s higher education institutions that part of the committee’s review of university programmes will include the introduction of foundation courses on Khmer cultural studies and Khmer Rouge history in the official curriculum.
The review will also ensure that courses and extracurricular activities cover social topics such as trafficking, illegal drugs and HIV/AIDS. Students at the Kingdom’s public and private universities say they are adequately informed about many of these subjects, but are anxious to know more and use their knowledge to improve their country.
Kim Meng, 19, studying finance and banking at Pannasastra University, said he has already learned about the Khmer Rouge from his family and a bit in school. “But we need to learn more about the problem,” he said. “If we want to stop these things from happening in the future, we must understand everything about the past.”
Today’s university students also say they want to learn about their country for the future. “We need to learn about the history of our country so that we can teach our children and they can teach theirs,” said Hor Ang Sim, 23, a dentistry student at the University of Health and Science.
“I want to know more about my culture, and also cultures abroad, so that we can find out what is the best and make it happen in Cambodia,” said Chhay Leang Sim, a second year student at the National University of Management.
The ACC has asked universities to invite experts and lecturers to speak about social ills, and while students say they do not think these problems directly impact them, they want to have a hand in turning the situation around. “It’s not a big problem for the people I know,” said Voeun Sarath, an English literature student at Pannasastra University. “But if we want to help eliminate the problem, we need to learn about why it is happening and how we can stop it.”
The ACC originated in 2003 as a watchdog organisation in charge of creating regulatory standards by which all licensed higher education institutions must comply. Thus far, they have focused their efforts only on the first year of study, but they will begin full institutional assessments in the coming years with the aid of a multi-million-dollar grant from the World Bank.
Pen Sithol, director of the ACC’s Department of Standards and Accreditation, is aware that students may have already learned about these historical and social topics, culling perceptions from television depictions, music, television and from accounts from their families, “but there are students coming from all over the place with very different experiences”, he said.
“We want to make sure they all have enough information before beginning their higher studies.”