School Grant Awarded as Textbook Sees Delays

While the new 12th-grade history textbook, which includes a chapter on the Khmer Rouge, remains missing from shelves, the Documentation Center of Cambo­dia has recently been granted $3,500 from the Carnegie Council on Ethics and Inter­national Affairs to help reform the secondary school history curriculum.

According to the approved proposal submitted by the DCC Deputy Director Sorya Sim, an independent committee of scholars is needed to “fill the [educational] gap created by years of war and revolution.”

Government attempts have not worked in the past because “political elites are unwilling or unable to move forward,” the proposal stated.

Sorya Sim said he didn’t know the reason for the current delay of the 12th-grade government textbook, but cited it as an example of why educational reform is needed in Cambodia.

“It is hard to understand the bureaucracy. When we try to find things out, people just hide the facts,” he said.

In Omsameng, team leader for the government textbook committee, said a draft version of the most anticipated section of the textbook, a chapter on the Khmer Rouge, was finished in July. “We must make sure the text is perfect,” he explained.

But Youk Chhang, executive director of the DCC, said he had read a recent draft, and suspects the textbook delay is due to political, not intellectual, considerations.

“I saw fear in the text. They write as government employees, not historians,” he said.

Supote Prasertri, a UN Educa­tional, Scientific and Cultural Organization education program specialist who helped train many of the textbook writers, agreed. He said most of the writers on the committee were heavily influenced by the Communist style of writing they were originally taught by teachers from the former Soviet Union.

“The committee needs new people, with more knowledge. Now they do not use enough sources because they are not fluent in other languages,” he said.

Youk Chhang said the draft was based on the personal accounts of the committee members and contained biased language. “I invited them to come and use the Documentation Center, but they never came,” he said.

“We went to Tuol Sleng instead,” claimed Ton Sa Im, director of the Ministry of Education’s Pedagogical Research Department. She said the draft will be finished this year.

Last year Ton Sa Im told an interviewer the textbook would not rely on Western sources for information, but that decision didn’t hold.  “We used 38 sources, including historians from Canada, France and America,” Ton Sa Im said this week.

Some areas of research were better left to Khmer historians, said Im Omsameng. He cited the controversy over the number of people killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. The textbook committee used Hun Sen’s estimate of more than three million.

“How would [Western historians] know more clearly than Cambodians who were in the country at the time?” Im Omsameng asked.

Dr Sophal Ear, a published scholar on Cambodia currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of California in the US, said he doubted that figure was accurate, though he called the draft version of the Khmer Rouge chapter in the textbook “even-handed.”

As a co-researcher on the DCC’s new project, Sophal Ear said he hoped the independent committee could provide change through partnership with the Ministry of Education instead of confrontation.

“Only our close collaboration with the Ministry will permit us to move forward…and to see to it that history education in Cambodia not turn into a sorry joke,” Sophal Ear said. “You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

“I’m hoping that after more than 30 years of war and revolution, the horse will be thirsty.”

 

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