Giving Back the Education that Pol Pot Tried To Steal
Education in Cambodia
The Year Zero policy implemented by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 has had two lasting effects on education in Cambodia.
Firstly, the Khmer Rouge wished to destroy everything that did not fit in with their vision of a utopian peasant economy. Thus there was no provision for the education of children, apart from political indoctrination. Schools were abandoned and books were destroyed.
Secondly, the Khmer Rouge sought out and executed those who were deemed to be the parasites that had lived off the productivity of the working classes. Thus the majority of teachers who were unable to conceal their identity were killed.
As a result of these actions, and because of Cambodia's international isolation between 1979 and 1991, the process of rebuilding the country's education system has been slow.
A generation grew up in the last quarter of the 20th century whose education was effectively stolen by Pol Pot, the former leader of the Khmer Rouge. A few wealthy families could afford to pay college fees in order help their children catch up on their lost opportunities, but the poor were deprived of this privilege, and the employment prospects of those who had aptitude but not money were severely impaired as a result.
Many in the next generation, though not having had to endure the horrors of a genocidal regime or the deprivation of its aftermath, are still denied the opprtunity to obtain a good education.
- Many schools are still under-resourced.
- Many teachers are under-qualified.
- Teachers receive a tiny government salary, leading to absenteeism and the practice of demanding 'informal payments' from their pupils.
- Attempts to eliminate cheating and bribery to obtain good examination results have not been entirely successful.
- Many children start primary school at a late age, and many students drop out of school before completing their secondary education, often because of the need to work in order to help keep their families alive.
- Most higher education is provided on a fee-paying basis and is therefore inaccessible to the majority of potential students.
- Higher education institutions are mostly situated in the major cities. Students from the provinces have to meet the cost of board and lodging in addition to paying for tuition. Furthermore, those who do manage to find somewhere to live are at risk from being drawn into an increasingly prevalent drug culture or being recruited into prostitution.
How CCC is trying to help
Since 1996 Cambodian Communities out of Crisis has been sponsoring students to undertake further and higher education courses. We have helped young Cambodians take courses in such subjects as:
- business studies;
- English language;
- information technology;
We sponsor some students a term at a time. We are helping others study long-term for Bachelor and Master's Degrees. Our aim is to help them improve their prospects of employment, especially as international investment in Cambodia increases.
We try to encourage students to take courses at reputable institutions, such as:
- Australian Centre for Education
- Build Bright University
- National University of Management
- Norton University
- Paññasastra University of Cambodia
The fee for a typical three-month course is only $180 (about £110) — about what a couple in the West might spend on going out for two or three meals during that time. Some of CCC's partners sponsor a particular student over several courses and gain the fulfilment of seeing him or her make steady progress from term to term. Others give a small amount which, when added to other gifts, will help a student take just one course. And some are committed to seeing a student through a four-year diploma course, which might cost from $500 to $650 (about £310 to £410) per year.
Students whom CCC has sponsored have gone on to secure good jobs or get started in business.
At present CCC is not taking on any new students. We are concentrating on using limited resources to enable the students we are currently supporting to complete their courses. In the future we foresee a greater emphasis on the sponsorship of children at primary and secondary school while we continue to raise funds for Timothy College.
In 2004 we began sponsoring children of school-age. We currently pay a portion of the fees for a small number of Cambodian children to study at schools offering a higher standard of education than that which is available in the public school system. These include two offering an international-standard curriculum:
Our Children of Cambodia project sends 15 further children to school. These come from families who scavenge on Phnom Penh's rubbish dump.
We invite you to consider sponsoring or part-sponsoring a student at college or a child at school. However much or little you give, it will make a vital difference to someone's life. If you would like to help, please contact us.
If you have already helped sponsor a student, please read some of the messages of thanks that they have sent us.
But we should like to go further. Private colleges of higher education are mushrooming in Cambodia, but few offer courses leading to recognised and validated qualifications. CCC's vision is to establish Timothy College, an institution that will set standards in academic excellence, quality of teaching, value for money and ethical conduct of business.