Prime Minister Orders Recall Of Textbooks

A political squabble has prompted Prime Minister Hun Sen to recall all new 12th-grade history textbooks from schools, though the school year is not yet over.

Minister of Education Tol Lah confirmed Sunday the prime minister ordered the confiscation of the history books at the Council of Ministers meeting Friday.

“It is true that Samdech the Premier ordered their collection and correction,” he said.

The decision followed a meeting between Hun Sen and Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranar­iddh, Tol Lah said.

The leaders agreed “the history book was written too urgently. [Some] very important historical events were not written about and some history dates were printed wrong. The part about the Khmer Rouge also needs to be re­checked,” Tol Lah said.

Last Wednesday, Prince Ra­nariddh, who is also president of the National Assembly, complained that the new textbook said nothing about his party defeating the CPP in the 1993 election. It does mention the CPP won the 1998 elections, however.

About 25,000 textbooks have been published.

With the school year ending in June, many questions remained unanswered Sunday. Tol Lah said he didn’t know how soon the books would be collected, how long it would take to correct and replace them, how much it would cost, or what materials the students would use during history classes in the meantime. He said he would meet with his staff Monday to begin discussing such issues.

Tol Lah downplayed the impact of confiscating textbooks before the school year is over.

“This is the last part of the program,” he said.

Phnom Penh education official Meas Neak said most students are studying the period of Cambodian independence before 1970. But students and teachers interviewed Sunday indicated they were studying various portions of the textbook. Some said they had already completed the modern history section.

The text includes world history as well as Cambodian history since World War II. An older book covers Cambodian history from the Angkor era through 1970.

Twelfth-grade students interviewed Sunday worried the confiscation of the books would interfere with their studies.  Examinations begin in about two months.

Phnom Penh book vendors said the government should buy the books back from them rather than confiscating them.

“We will lose money,” said one vendor near the Chaktomuk secondary school.

The recall is the latest chapter in the controversial life of the first textbook to cover Cambodian history since 1970 in detail. In previous years the government avoided putting recent history in textbooks for fear of reigniting civil war. The new textbook was originally scheduled to be distributed to schools last September, but was delayed until February for unspecified reasons.

(Additional reporting by Richard Sine)


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