The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Education

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Education plays in an important role in every country's socio-economic development. Without it, the country can not develop rapidly. In Cambodia, education system was neglected or badly damaged due to the past transitions. Under the French colonial, most people did not get good education because "the government-sponsored education system was small and primarily oriented to the needs of elite" (Bray 2005, p.12). Worst of all, when Khmer Rouge came to the power on 17 April 1975, almost everything was destroyed or closed, including monasteries, hospitals, and schools. Money was no longer in circulation (Pellini 2005, p. 17). On 7 January 1979, The Kampuchean National Liberation United Font, with the help of Vietnamese troops, liberated Cambodia from the grips of the Khmer Rouge and formed the government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. This government had many tasks to do, including education system construction.

The pathetic condition of education system during PRK resulted from the civil war (1970-1975), Democratic Kampuchea legacy, Cambodia's international isolation and Vietnamese patronage. Many school buildings were deliberately destroyed during the five years of civil war, and the remaining school buildings had often been abandoned or had not been repaired by 1979 (Ayres 2000, p.127). Therefore, the new regime (PRK) confronted with the shortage of educational infrastructures. Furthermore, human resources were severely depleted in 1979 because the nation's professors, teaching personnel and students were tortured or killed horribly during Democratic Kampuchea period (Ayres 2000, p. 126). However, education system was reopened in the early 1979 after the collapse of Pol Pot regime, and "the reconstruction during 1980s under Vietnamese advice and support followed socialist models" (Bray 2005, p.13). Due to the love of nation, PRK leaders, scholars who survived DK's massacres and people worked closely together to rebuild the country, including education sector. What could they achieve in terms of educational infrastructures, human resources, curricula, and education administration? Who were the important contributors to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the education system under PRK? And what could they help?

Educational Infrastructure Construction

General Education

Not long after Cambodia was deliberated, Schools were reopened in some areas in Cambodia. Deth (2009) argued that "As far as secondary-level schools were concerned (especially high schools), students could have access only in urban areas like Phnom Penh and other provincial capital, and to less extent in some towns"(p.69). With the absence of major aid in education system improvement, the government of PRK, with community's contribution, started to repair and construct more school buildings. At that time, Community enthusiastically contributed to the construction of schools, in accordance with their means and resources, for the sake of local community. They provided material support or labor for school building construction. As Buddhists, Cambodian people organized merit-making festivals to build schools (MoEYS 1999, p.24).According to Bray. (2005), "Households and communities played a major role in school construction during the 1980s" (p.14). With community's large contributions, the number of schools increased year after year. A look at the statistics illustrated in the Appendix Tables and provided by the Ministry of Education of the PRK of the number of schools in Cambodia between1979 and 1988 is indicative of the presence and growth of education in Cambodia after Democratic Kampuchea's rule. From 1979 to 1980, there were 96 kindergarten schools, 5290 primary schools, 14 lower secondary schools and 1 upper secondary school. Within around nine years later, the number of schools increased up to, from 1987-1988, 560 kindergarten schools, 4780 primary schools, 337 lower secondary schools and 40 upper secondary schools (Sen 1988, pp.339-348). If we compare the number of schools in the early 1980s with the ones in the late 1980s, we can see that schools had an enormous increase.

Higher Education and Post-secondary Education

In addition to general education, with the support of the international socialist bloc and some Western Non Government Organization (NGO), the institutions of higher education and some post-secondary schools were reopened in the following years. Deth (2009) argued that "Phnom Penh was the only place where tertiary-level schools were available, though relatively limited. The Faculty of Medicine, Dentist and Pharmacy and the Kampuchea -Soviet Technical Institute were among the first institutions to reopen in 1980, and 1981 respectively, thanks to the aid of Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Western Non- Government Organization and UNICEF. Vietnamese aid was particularly important in the Medicine Faculty, since the older generation of Vietnamese donors shared French language with Khmer students from early 1970s. The Technical Institute, with over eighty Soviet teachers, offered courses in construction, electricity, irrigation and mining, as well as, industrial chemistry. The higher Pedagogical Institute, which supervised the other seven pedagogical centers in a few provincial towns (such as Battambang, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Takeo and Stung Treng) was located in Phnom Penh. There were also five other Professional Institutes reopened: Agriculture, Languages, Technical Engineering, Economics and Administration" (pp. 71-72). Although there was much progress in terms of education infrastructures, PRK, with community and donors continued to build more schools to satisfy the country's need.

Human Resource Development

Seeing the lack of educated people, the government and the people worked closely together to develop human resources in Cambodia. Within a month of the Vietnamese liberation, community established school and taught children in the village because of the love of teaching or strong desire to help the country that had just emerged from DK. Not so long time later, in May 1979 some other village people also provided children with alphabet (literacy) classes and some elementary classes, but the schools were not sanctioned by the PRK administration (Ayres 2000, p.129). In order to develop human resources to satisfy the emergent need of the country, PRK leaders overcame uncountable obstacles. They began to recruit educational officers and teachers. Community was the main source for teacher supply to fill the nation's classrooms (Ayres 2000, pp. 129-130). With the great efforts made by the government and community to rehabilitate and construct more schools, the number of students and teachers increased year after year. From 1979 to 1980, there were 8229 pupils and 267 teachers (for kindergarten schools), 947307 students and 25526 teachers (for primary schools), 4803 students and 206 teachers (for lower secondary schools), and 281 students and 20 teachers (for upper secondary schools). Until 1987-1988, the number of students and teachers increased up to 59679 pupils and 2897 teachers (for kindergarten schools), 1279053 students and 37292 teachers (for primary schools), 326403 students and 10882 teachers (for lower secondary schools), 26176 students and 1064 teachers (for upper secondary schools) (Sen 1988 , pp.339-348). Compared with the number of students and teachers in the early 1980s, the number of students and teachers in the late 1980s increased considerably, which is the pride of Cambodia.

Moreover, besides studying in the country, several thousands of Cambodian students were sent to study in Vietnam, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries through the 1980s. There were more than 2800 students studying abroad, mainly in the Soviet and Eastern Europe (Deth 2009, p.72).


Receiving Vietnamese support at both the provincial and national levels, PRK leaders built socialism in Cambodia by creating "new socialist men" through education (Ayres 2000, p.148). Therefore, they had to adopt the curricula to reflect this orientation. The curriculum reflected Vietnamese socialist and revolutionary educational ideas, and it was also a product of the memories of the pre-revolutionary teachers (Ayres 2000, p.130). According to Ayres (2000)"Due to the lack of the capacity to administer higher education, the PRK relied almost exclusively on Vietnamese and Soviet support, so the policy of Khmerization of tertiary education was practically abandoned. Instead, by the mid-1980s, Vietnamese and Russian were the dominant languages of the instruction in those tertiary faculties where there was no adequately trained or unqualified Khmer staff" (p.139).The students were required to study the subjects dealing with "political morality" and the subjects remaining from pre-Revolutionary education system. Moral education replaced the ethics and civics education of Sihanouk era. The study of French language was eliminated (Ayres 2000, p. 131). The similarities, in terms of primary curricula, are illustrated in the Appendix Tables. All education in Cambodia during 1980s served the Vietnamese purpose of creating a like-minded population to be an ally of Vietnam, and from primary school through higher education, Marxist-Leninist philosophy was intertwined within the curriculum (Lindsay 2008, p 88). Anyway, the history of royalty was excluded, but the history of revolutionary movement and the left-wing struggle against the French, which was not included in pre-1970 war education, was now taught from middle school upward (Deth 2009, p.73).

Educational Administration

Educational Structure

During PRK, education structure was different from the one prior 1975. The new structures put in place by the administration were a hybrid because of the lack of infrastructures, facilities and personnel necessary to reintroduce a thirteen year system of education, and also because Vietnamese advisors imposed on Cambodian ministry which lacked ideas and specialty in administration (Ayres 2000, p.130). According to Dy. (2004), "For general education, Cambodia's education system had a 4+3+3 structure: four years of primary schooling were followed by three years of lower secondary schooling and three years of upper secondary schooling, and then changed to a 5+3+3 structure " (p.93). Besides this, the system had kindergarten schools, post-secondary studies and universities (Deth 2009, p.71).

Educational Management

The system management was decentralized; that is, provincial education committees were provided with high degree of responsibilities for decision-making because there was not the staff to manage a powerful central ministry, and the national system of communications lay in ruins. The structure and management mechanisms were almost entirely Vietnamese (Ayres 2000, p.130)


In short, with the help of Eastern bloc countries, Western NGO and UNICEF, mainly with community's great contribution and PRK leaders' strong determination to rebuild the education, education system was rehabilitated and developed with empty hand. The physical infrastructures and human resources were expanded. The number of upper secondary schools increased from 1 in 1979-1980 to 40 in 1987-1988. The number of upper secondary school students and teachers increased from 281/ 20 in 1979-1980 to 26176/1064 in 187-1988 respectively. The curricula were improved, basing on socialist ideology reflection. Educational system changed from a 4+3+3 structure to a 5+3+3 structure. Accordingly, Both PRK leaders and Cambodian people managed to achieve a great success in education system within only ten years (1979-1989). It thus seems that in terms of education the PRK was genuinely concerned with education despite the lack of both human resources and educational infrastructures. The achievement was largely confined to urban areas, particularly in Phnom Penh.