Villagers and a district education official in Stung Treng province have disputed the provincial government’s decision to tear down a school near the Laos border, saying that they will build another school nearby.
Stung Treng Governor Loy Sophat said Monday that children never attended the Samaki commune school and that it was a built as a ploy to steal state-owned land.
“Our forestry officials investigated before we decided to close it because we are worried those people planned to grab state land,” Loy Sophat said.
He added that villagers from the district have cleared 2,236 hectares of protected forest since 2004, an activity he said that the government needed to put a stop to.
The school was built six months ago with approval from Stung Treng district’s Samaki commune council and Stung Treng district Governor Yol Mach, who said he sent a state-funded teacher to the schoolhouse in the 40-family village.
Yol Mach, who is also the district’s deputy director of education, said Loy Sophat overrode his decision and closed the school.
The roughshod school with a palm-leaf roof shortened the 13-km trek the village children, ages 6 to 11, must take to the nearest public school, Yol Mach said, adding that children have skipped school every day since its closing.
The district’s education department intends to build another school in the village, he added.
Samaki commune chief Khav Phon said most of the village children speak Lao and cannot read or write in Khmer.
He denied that the villagers tried to steal protected forest, adding that they don’t need more land—only a school.
“Our principle of education is to spread schools everywhere to reach the remote areas, and we welcome those villagers who created a community school for their children,” Yol Mach said.
Provincial Governor Loy Sophat said the government builds schools as needed and another school in Samaki commune is not needed.