Bilingual Education Heralded, Urged to Expand

Government and ethnic minority hilltribe representatives as well as the UN are calling Cambodia’s first experiment in bilingual education, conducted among the Tampuon and Kreung peoples of Ra­tanakkiri, a success that should be expanded. 

According to a recently published study by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Or­ganization, entitled “Highland Children’s Education Project” in the villages in which bilingual education is offered, students are reading and writing by first grade outpacing results obtained at some Khmer-only schools.

But expansion of the program depends on funding and on fully overcoming a tendency towards Khmer-only education.

The report analyzes formal edu­cation involving Tampuon and Kreung languages that has been provided to the first and second grades in six villages in Ra­ta­n­ak­kiri province.

Classes were given to minority students by Care International, using  Khmer-based script for five hilltribe languages developed by the Ministry of Education and the NGO International Cooperation for Cambodia, said In The, the deputy director-general of the fi­nance department and previously di­rector of non-formal education at the ministry.

But government officials were not initially open to the project, said the Unesco report.

Teaching hilltribe children in their mother tongues will not ad­versely affect the Khmer language or minority cultures, but will enrich both, In The said, ad­ding that he hopes bilingual education will be expanded up to grade 6 in the coming years.

“These are cultures that are thousands of years old and for the first time the languages have a writ­ten form,” Supote Pra­ser­tsri, di­rector of Unesco’s education de­partment in Cambodia, said Mon­day.

“Of course there is some resistance but the Chinese, Vietnamese and French are allowed to learn their languages in Phnom Penh, so why shouldn’t the hilltribe people?” Prasertsri said.

Dam Chanty, president of the Highlanders Association and a member of the Tampuon minority, said that far from Khmerizing hilltribe cultures, the bilingual education efforts are enriching it.

“Once they know the way to write their languages, they can write their own histories and legends for younger generations,” In The said.


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