A survey by the Asean Foundation released Tuesday found Cambodian students scored particularly low compared to their Asean nation counterparts in identifying countries on a map of Southeast Asia, with most unable to identify more than half of the 10-nation block.
According to the survey, fewer than 40 percent of the Cambodian students polled could locate Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore or Malaysia on a map, and just 84 percent could locate Cambodia.
The study results do not necessarily indicate a need for curriculum reforms, education officials said Thursday, but do reflect student apathy toward geography as a school subject.
“Many students feel geography isn’t as important as other subjects. They can’t get a job in geography. They prefer to study English, computer science, math,” said Tieng Vichea, co-director of the communications department at Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Commissioned by the Asean Foundation to gauge awareness of and attitudes toward Asean, the survey was conducted during the second half of 2007 and polled a total of 2,170 students from leading public universities in the 10 Asean nations, including 217 students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Of note to Cambodian respondents was their enthusiasm for Asean despite their particularly low score on the map test, the survey concluded.
At RUPP, less than 2 percent of the 10,000-student body majors in geography, said Bun Serey, head of RUPP’s geography department, whereas more than 20 percent of students major in English, Tieng Vichea said.
Because there are a limited number of spots in each area of study, most students who end up studying geography drop it because it was not their preferred major, Bun Serey said, adding that students coming into RUPP are weak in the subject.
“Here in Cambodia, geographic classes are not popular,” Tieng Vichea added.
Chea Vannath, former president of the Center for Social Development, said students are missing out on an important piece of world knowledge.
“If the students have that kind of attitude, it might say the same thing for history,” Chea Vannath said Thursday. “We’re talking about general knowledge. History doesn’t make any money. Should we not care about history?”
“Even though you don’t need that for on-the-job training, it adds to your character, it enhances your knowledge,” she said.
Ministry of Education Under-Secretary of State Chea Se declined to judge if the Asean survey reflected the average Cambodian student.
“I cannot say if the survey was accurate or not, it depends on the students they surveyed,” Chea Se said, adding that reforms to elementary and high school education have been rapidly implemented since 2000.
Also of note, the survey found most Asean students don’t want to work or vacation in Cambodia, with only 0.4 percent of 2,170 students polled saying they would “most like to work” in Cambodia whereas 54.3 percent said they’d like to work in Singapore, 11.2 percent chose Malaysia and 8.3 percent chose Brunei.
Ministry of Labor Under-Secretary of State Oum Mean said on Wednesday that he was not surprised by the non-interest in working in Cambodia.
“It is hard to provide labor for our citizens, how can we afford for others?” he said, adding that other Asean nations did not suffer through the Khmer Rouge regime and two decades of political unrest.
“We should not be discouraged by the small numbers,” he added.