The Khmer Rouge and Education System

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

After the collapse of the Khmer Republic leading by General Lon Nol, Khmer Rouge grabbed power over Cambodia on April 17, 1975. Then the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) formed the government of Democratic Kampuchea in 1976 and led the country until January 1979 (Dy Khamboly, 2007). However, The party's identity was unrevealed until 1977, and the head of CPK was no recognized except itself and was called itself " Angkar Padevat", (Dy Khamboly, 2007). The Khmer Rouge evacuated people in Phnom Penh and other cities to the countryside to carry out agricultural work. Therefore, "thousands of people died during the evacuations," (Dy Khamboly, 2007). The Khmer Rouge also started their plans to eliminate religion, culture, and social classes. Schools, pagodas, markets and government buildings were closed or turned into prisons, stables, or reeducation camps (Dy Khamboly, 2007).

Under Democratic Kampuchea (DK), everyone was underprivileged of their basic rights and people were prohibited from meeting and talking to each other more than three people and family relationships were also seriously condemned. For instance, people were outlawed to express even minor fondness or sympathy. In contrast, the Khmer Rouge forced all people to trust and follow only Angkar Pedevat as parents (Dy Khamboly, 2007).

Peter G. (1989, p.260) argued that "during the period of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to January 1979, education as such did not exist" and "education was mandatory for children between the ages of five and nine in a curriculum that was confined to literacy and some numeracy", but the Khmer Rouge generally had a tendency to oppose to education and the ruling was given to local leaders to implement and operated only some of flourishing districts. For example, in the district village of Leach in southwestern Pursat province, children were set to learn one hour of regular instruction and then they had to work in groups. The main parts of the lessons involved in learning revolutionary songs and danced base on traditional tune while children of middle and upper class urban parents were removed from their parents altogether for reeducation. In the area of secondary education, a low-level technical college, the Institute for Scientific Training and Information, existed in Phnom Penh. Most instructions for young and adult alike consisted of self-criticism and political indoctrination sessions. In the meantime, several hundred thousand school age children were massacred or died of starvation and disease in this period. (Peter G. 1989)

Aim of study

This paper traces and analyses educational strategy and policy development under the DK with a special concern on basic education strategies for children. This period is critically significant for the history of schooling system in Cambodia. It covers Pol Pot or infamous regime of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79). It probes the regime's educational strategies and policies for their citizens in line with political education change. Its inputs, methods, and outputs are discussed so as to explain its commitments to building or changing Cambodia.

Research Questions

This study covers the Khmer Rouge regime of different political trends and ideology dating from the 1975 to 1979 - focusing on children and education. The central question begs to be asked here is what is the education system for children? Where and how long did they learn? How did they learn?

Children under Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge imposed the breaking of ties on people from religion and family so that people could be faithful to government and all political and human rights were eradicated. In addition, formal instruction was terminated and from January 1977 all children from the age of 8 were isolated from their parents and put in work camps where they were trained to love the state as their real parents. Moreover, the Khmer Rouge found out that children were important to the revolution because they considered the children to be certainly moulded and brainwashed. Then children were trained to obey orders, became soldiers and kill enemies. Also they were educated to consider that anyone not following to the Khmer rules were corrupt enemies. (Holocaust Memorial Day Trust)

School Curriculum

Ayres ( 2003, p.106) argued that "Pol Pot's plan for the education system contained three central ideological elements". The first thing for education was to study letters and number so as to study technology. The second was the practice after lessons and the last was political perception to show the route of party is right. (Ayres, 2003)

Ayres (2003) noted that based on the plan, the formal education was to comprise of three years of primary education in general subjects, three years of general secondary education, three years of technical secondary and another three years of tertiary education in technical subjects. In contrast, children were taught similar curricula: rudimentary literacy, numeracy, revolutionary songs and through slogans, revolutionary military. And the plan isn't almost discussed about the educational curriculum and is just listed the "general subjects" for study. ( Ayres, 2003)


Sideth S. Dy ( 2004, p.95) noted that "damage was inflicted not only to the educational infrastructure, but Cambodia also lost almost three-quarters of its educated population under the regime when instructors, students, specialists and scholars were killed or managed to escape into exile". Schools were abandoned and books were destroyed. Thus, there was nearly no provision for the education of children. Consequently, children learned under trees or people's houses with teachers were often poor peasants who could only read and write a little (Dy Khamboly, 2007). The children were taught two or three hours a day of primary education. However, educational materials were inadequate. There were no pencils, paper or books, so children were required to make chalk from clay or charcoal and waste paper from used cement bags. After study, children worked in fields to make dikes, collect cow dung, tend paddies or vegetables, and watch over the cattle grazing (Ayres, 2003). Damien de Walque ( 2004) claimed that "only basic primary schools, with a curriculum centered on agricultural skills, were open and no secondary schools were in operation". Students who were of secondary schooling age at the end of the 1970s have a lower level of educational achievement. (Ayres, 2003).

Qualification of Education

Education system plan under the Khmer Rouge does not sketch in how regime proposed to carry out its objects concerning education and literacy. For instance, essential pedagogical issues such as teacher selection and training, development of curriculum and materials are not talked (Ayres, 2003). Nevertheless, the party's vision of education in general and literacy was just a glance and the quality of education which children obtained in DK was not good enough in every feature. Particularly, teachers, mostly old people from countryside, were low-grade in education. Children were learned without enough time, but they were forced to work overtime and undernourished (Ayres, 2003). Moreover, according to (Chigas & Mosyakov, 2010) claimed that examinations and certificates were conducted in education system and it is a system of learning through the collective and in the solid movement of the socialist revolution and creating socialism in specific bases. As a result, children, in many conditions, were not received proper education. ( Ayres, 2003).

Discussion and Conclusion

Children under the Khmer Rouge didn't get formal education, but they were set ideology to love Khmer Rouge in order to serve their plan. Therefore, children lost opportunity for their education and even their childhood. Moreover, children were not allowed to stay with their parents in order to get their parents' warmness. All this shows that the Khmer Rouge did not provide children adequate education, but they forced children to work very hard with insufficient food and join arm force. As a result, many children died because of diseases, starvation and joining Khmer Rouge arm force during the war.