Erika L. Weber
April 6, 2013
Dr. Betty Taylor
Education in Cambodia
The Kingdom of Cambodia, common referred to as Cambodia, is a beautiful country. It is located between Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand on the southern end of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Before starting my studies this semester, Spring 2013 at USF, I knew little of Cambodia. I met another IME student here at USF whose family fled Cambodia during the civil war that started in 1970. Life in Cambodia became more dangerous during the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979. She and her family sought refuge in the United States. I was fascinated with her story of struggle and wanted to learn more. I have since interviewed others from Cambodia who were also forced abroad during that time. I wondered how this civil war and Khmer Rouge affected Cambodia’s current educational system. In this paper, I explore that question. The estimated Cambodian population for 2013, under the King Norodom Sihamoni, is 15,205,539. The population’s median age is 23 years. 95 per cent of the people speak the official language of Khmer, but others speak French and English. Buddhism is the official religion, of which 96 per cent of Cambodians practice. Two percent are Muslim and a fraction more of the population is exercising other religions. (CIA, 2013) Most government policy takes place in the capital city Phnom Penh that is located in the south-central region of the country on the banks of the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. (CIA, 2013) Traditionally, most of the education in Cambodia took place in Budhist temples. The teaching was limited to mostly boys and was primarily Buddhist studies. Later, when the French colonized Cambodia in 1863, a limited educational system was put in place following the French model. In 1931, there were just seven high school graduates. Five years later in 1936, there was only an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 children enrolled in primary school. (Library of Congress Country Studies, 1987) Nearly 100 years later, the French left Cambodia, and a more wide-spread system of education came into place ranging from primary school to vocational school and universities. The educational system still followed the French example. The majority of schools were in the urban center of the country around Phnom Penh. This system was adequately serving the Cambodian population until the civil war in 1970. Between 1975–1979, the Khmer Rouge regime decimated most formal education and tried to eliminate all educated people. (Hidayat, 2010) A Cambodian Communist revolutionary turn dictator, Pol Pot, aimed a takeover of Cambodia. The plan included getting rid of people who may rebel so he could grow a new community from the ground up just the way he wanted. His aim was to eliminate the educated people. He ordered the teachers, educated adults, and even those who wore glasses to be killed or sent to labor camps. (Hidayat, 2010) People ran and were forced out into the rural areas. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, lead by Pol Pot, schools were closed. Many families fled to other countries. Traditionally, few rural people had a formal education. As the urban residents were flushed out of the country’s center to the rural outskirts, the rural people weren’t very welcoming to the city dwellers who didn’t know how to work in rural jobs. The formally educated became outcasts. The situation became worse; people were starving. The result was that many rural families fled Cambodia too. Pol Pot was responsible for decimating the educational system that was in place at the time in Cambodia. (Hidayat, 2010) “The effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care resulted in the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population.” (USAID) Cambodia’s economics and educational systems suffer from political occupations, war, and internal conflicts. After the Vietnam-Cambodia...
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