With so many students and teachers celebrating the third and last day of Chinese New Year, some Phnom Penh schools were nearly empty Monday—giving school officials across the city no other choice but to cancel classes.
“We cannot start classes. I am very concerned about the influence. It is like Khmer New Year,” said Khat Dara Rachana, deputy director of Wat Koh High School. He said classes could resume as late as Thursday, depending on attendance rates.
“We cannot blame students. Some teachers came to teach, but some didn’t. I don’t understand what they are thinking,” he said.
About 70 percent of students had not shown up at Wat Koh on Monday, he said. A canvass of other schools showed a similar trend.
“Some teachers taught and some didn’t,” said Seng Lim, director of Preah Sisowath High School. “It is everywhere.”
Baktouk High School Director Sok Sovanna said many students in Phnom Penh claim Chinese ancestry, making it difficult to prevent students from attending Chinese New Year celebrations or to penalize them for skipping classes.
“Some students and teachers are Chinese descendants, so they just follow the tradition,” he said, adding that the tactic of scheduling exams over the holiday had to be abandoned after a Chinese association complained.
“They said it violated their rights,” he said. “And the government wants to maintain a good relationship with them.”
Om Hoeung, municipal education department director, said the capital is home to numerous Cambodian-Chinese, and that it would be unfair to prevent anyone from attending Chinese New Year celebrations. He added that the municipality left it up to individual students and teachers to decide whether or not to hold class over the holiday.
“We don’t close schools. We do them a favor. We don’t check teachers’ or students’ attendance. It is their freedom. It is their tradition,” Om Hoeung said.
He said schools would resume as normal by Wednesday at the latest.