History lessons have ground to a halt for the country’s 12th- graders since their textbooks were recalled after complaints by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, education officials said.
Weekly history classes ended May 2 with a Ministry of Education order to confiscate the textbooks, said Ton Sa Im, director of the ministry’s Pedagogical Research Department. The textbooks were removed from vendors’ stands and classrooms, but students were allowed to keep the books if they had already purchased them, she said.
The school year ends in mid-July. Most students had been poised to begin studying the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk after Cambodian independence when the lessons were suspended, said In Om Sameng, team leader for the government textbook committee.
Students will not study five textbook chapters, from the beginning of independence through the 1990s, he said. Students were scheduled to study history for 47 hours. This year, however, they will study for only 31 hours.
“I feel sorry for the 12th grade,” said Ton Sa Im. “They have not learned enough history.”
Twelfth-grade students expressed concern and bewilderment at the end of classes. “I wonder why they have not allowed us to learn the history,” said Mon Munint, of Hun Sen Chhoeung Nhok High School in Kandal. “When they collected the books, the teacher told me the book affects the leaders.”
Some students said their classes had started with modern Cambodia and worked backward, so they did not miss contemporary history. Others said their lessons had gone only as far as the 1950s.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the recall in late March after Prince Ranariddh complained that the book was unfair to Funcinpec. The book fails to mention that Funcinpec defeated the CPP in the 1993 elections, he noted. It does mention the CPP won the 1998 elections, however.
Ministry authors are now conducting research and will rewrite the book’s last section, which deals with the period following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, Ton Sa Im said. The new section will be reviewed by a panel of officials and academics before going to print, she said.
The ministry is aiming to get new versions of the book back in schools by October, when the next school year begins. “We will try our best to get the new books back into schools quickly,” she said.
Ton Sa Im said she could not estimate how much it would cost to rewrite and reprint the book. Twenty-five thousand copies of the last edition were printed.
The recall is only the latest chapter in the dramatic history of the textbook, which Ton Sa Im portrayed as the ministry’s first effort at writing a nonideological history. It is also the first to devote a full chapter to the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Originally scheduled for release by the beginning of the last school year, the book was delayed until February for unspecified reasons, though there were reports of disagreements about the Khmer Rouge chapter.
Outside scholars and Khmer Rouge experts argued that the new book should have relied less on official CPP histories and more on independent academic and Western sources.
But Ton Sa Im said that because time was short, the revised textbook would change only the final section. The book would go through a similar review process as before, she said.
Officials would not say whether the new revision would include the changes Prince Ranariddh had demanded, saying the new section was still being researched.
“We do not write to favor someone,” In Om Sameng said.
“[But] when they object we will reconsider and correct to make things peaceful,” Ton Sa Im added. “This is our first effort, so I hope we can correct the little problems.”