Cambodia after declaring independence was pitifully seen as a fragile country, which required much attention due to the fact that there was no sign of improvement or country development under 90 years of French colony, but illiteracy. To develop this small and nearly-destroyed country, King Norodom Sihanouk found out that its economy must be the only one to be strengthened. But how could this be possible if there were fewer human resources in Cambodia at that time? The prince eventually decided to focus much on education. Consequently, under Sihanouk’s time, there were number of increasing of primary and secondary schools followed by amazing amount of students year by year. It could be said that this was his significant achievement in the field of education reform. Continuously, the prince ambitiously established many higher education institutions.
As results, there were lots of students graduated year by year, but there were lots of complains from most of those graduates, for they could not find appropriate jobs for their living. This led to a question which further study need to be taken and also those who used to think that economy and education in Sihanouk’s time were preciously incomparable and fascinatingly valuable. The question that should be asked to find out more reliable and trustable answer is what reasons caused the high unemployment rate of graduates during Sihanouk time?
The first primary information that researcher should take for discussion is the situation from independence. “Since gaining independence from France in 1953, the ideal policy of building a nation-state through educational development was successfully implemented. New schools were built reaching to rural and remote areas; and universities, which the French had refused to offer during its colonial period (1863-1953), were established in the capital and several main provincial” (Dy, 2004). Dy (2004) also introduced number of students enrolling in high schools which decreased nearly four times in figure from 10, 000 in 1925 to 2, 700 in 1953. Dy (2004) continued to show that there were estimated fifty percent of illiteracy rate in 1953 for a population of 3.7 million. These could be logical reasons the King Sihanouk insisted to have compulsory secondary education, Cambodianization and the development of educational curricula suited to Cambodian needs and the building of the Cambodian nation (Ayres, 2003). There might also be graduate students from France, who had associated themselves with international Communist movement interested in teaching profession (Ayres, 2003). Upon that moment, Ayres (2003) stated that Chau Seng, returning from France, was elected as secretary of state for education, so many of the recommendations of his study became education policies. With his (the prince’s) reform, there were number of institutions and students increasing repeatedly which showed his success in his own reforms.
The Cambodian Educational System Under Sihanouk
Number of Students
(Junior High and High Schools)
Number of Students
Technical and Professional Schools
Number of Students
Number of Faculty
Number of Students
2, 731 5, 857
311, 000 1, 025, 000
5, 300 117, 000
334 7, 400
347 10, 800
Source: Ear (1995), p. 28
According to the figures number of primary school doubled itself from 2, 731 in 1955 to 5, 857 in 1968 followed by number of students increased almost triple from 311, 000 to 1, 025, 000. Moreover, secondary schools straightly increased from 12 in 1955 to 180 in 1968 followed by doubling of students from 5, 300 to 117, 000. We also can see the incredible increase of Technical and Professional Schools from 5 to 99, and from zero university to 9 in late 1960s. These increases followed by gradual rise of faculties from 2 to 48 and number of students from 347 to 10, 800.
International recommendation on the reforms in education system
It was true that in order to fulfill the need of shortage of teachers Cambodia was required to speed up its process, but he should be careful of the outcome and the market need. That was the reason why Prud’homme could see the advance problem if the prince dared to establish secondary and tertiary education (Ear, 1995). He also quoted Prud’homme’s speech “Primary, secondary, and Tertiary education do not prepare for much more than a career in civil service. The agronomists, technicians, accountants, engineers, economists, and ‘entrepreneurs’ who play an important role in economic development are too few in Cambodia.” (Ear, 1995). Ear (1995) also mentioned that in Sihanouk time, we could see lots of pupils and students in all level, but he loosely spent the budget without conducting any survey for their future opportunities after graduation. UNESCO had proposed two advises for the first attempt of Cambodianazation. One was that the educational expansion should be limited to priority needs and invest the rest of it should be spent on other necessary resources. The other was the school curriculum which should be revised to adapt the Cambodian needs (Ayres, 2003). The idea of creating compulsory secondary education was also argued by UNESCO, while this international organization recommended him to pay much attention on primary education which was the basic knowledge that pupil need to be carefully trained (Ayres, 2003).
Additionally, Prud’homme stated that the early establishments would produce low quality because university qualified teachers were not enough (Ear, 1995). The unstoppable expectation caused more troubles after launching tertiary education due to larger expension(Ayres, 2003; Chandler, 2009; Ear, 1995). Ayres (2003) raised up one more disagreement to the prince by stating advice of an international agency which accused his work like a short-thought reformer always making decision without precised planning on establishing higher education.
In conclusion, we can see that during Sihanouk regime there were international agency concerning about his solution to bring Cambodia out of poverty and to meet with economic growth through education. Several recommendations were given, but eventually were refused and ignored. What could it be possible reasons to make him decide like this?
King Sihanouk’s consistent vision of the reforms in education system
First of all there would be a discussion why the prince ignored international advice, so let see what his ambition was. Charles Meyer explained that Sihanouk would only interest in and desire to show the world that during his time higher education absolutely arose in Cambodia, and he could be admired of what he did (Ayres, 2003). That was the reason why he refused to wait for long time in building capacity and quality of the product, graduates, recommended by international experts (2003). Even though the reforms directed him to spend huge amount of money, over 20 percent of country development budget, he intentionally pursued his aim without caring about any donors (Ayres, 2003). However, the establishment prevented him from bringing his dream to success. The problems occurred one after another which could be seen the first one was not enough trained teachers. In order to solve this problem, Accelerated Training Programs were made to train unqualified teachers to teach massive students who enrolled year after year which located in Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh Teacher Training Center (formerly the Ecole Normale) and another one at Kompong kantuot Teacher Trainer Center. These programs were funded by U.S. (Ayres, 2003).
The second problem was rapidly-flow expansion in that field. It was seen that teacher position at that time could earn lots of money. According to Pellini’s (2007) interview, teacher salary in 1956 was 4, 800 KHR per month (ca. 150 USD at the exchange rate of 1 USD = 30 KHR of that time). This was just teacher in primary school, but we do not know those who taught in secondary school and university; however, we may guess that it was not under the previous salary. Not fortunate enough, when U.S was driven away from Cambodia in accordance by its fund, the expenditure on educational training came to a hard time and sooner led to education crisis, which forced the government to travel abroad to ask for more fund, especially China and Vietnam, and finally, it left only regret (Ayres, 2003).
At the end, the education extension met its difficulties, and the facilities were also topics to be criticized by students and international agency (Ayres, 2003). Moreover, the quality was terribly recognized due to corruption and not-interested-in-teaching teachers (Ayres, 2003; Dy, 1995). There was one example of corruption which was mention by a man, Mr. Chanou. “Corruption was everywhere. Everyone was involved, either receiving or giving bribery. You have to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate for your child (or) for your driver’s license (I did that!). Money talked, and you could get away with almost anything as long as you have it. I’m still bitter for not being accepted to the ‘Faculte de Commerce’ (Business College) because I refused to pay (sic) bribery.” (Dy, 1995). The other problem was teachers who were not interested in teaching. Ayres (2003) mentioned that most students aim to work in lucrative branches of civil service, but they were unable to fight for the position due to the limited requirement.
In conclusion, the education extension and expansion which were conducted by prince Sihanouk declined shamefully, and this led to one of major causes of civil war. What was exactly the result of his extension of tertiary education?
Results of unemployment
Tertiary education created by Sihanouk was aim to illustrate to outside word see the prosperity in Cambodia during his time; moreover, it directed students to take part in civil service which was mostly to strengthen his political issue (Ayres, 2003; Ear 1995). As the results, students who were attracted to the political stage increasingly enrolled more and more. Likewise, pupils who wished to seek fame for families’ reputation try their best to pursue their education with the dreams of becoming staff in the government institutions (Ayres, 2003). This amount of students graduated year after year, which was 1, 060, 000 students in total who applied for position in civil service. However, due to the number of government institutions was limited, there were lots of graduates unemployed and some of them angrily decided to choose positions as teachers, which brought violence, instable politic, and unqualified product (Ayres, 2003).
In conclusion, education reforms leading by Sihanouk left painful results. Even though he tried his best to make change again and again, he could not get good result due to his unchangeable decision. We could see that many of international expert trying to give comments, but he ignorantly refuse to take even overdid to the advice. The most important part of his failure was the creation of higher education without careful plan for the future results of the graduate; therefore, there were huge amount of graduates unemployed. According to Ayres (2003) suggested that his emphasis the establishment of modern nation should focus of the reality and the existence places; otherwise, the national modern sectors could not absorb the graduates.
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