Anti-corruption drive in Cambodia

October 27, 1994

Getting rid of corruption and violence in colleges are two of the main goals of Cambodia's new education minister as he tries to build a functioning education system.

Cambodian students have long admitted that examinations go hand in hand with money. It still costs around $2,000 or $3,000 for someone to get into a faculty of law when the average yearly income in Cambodia is around $200.

Cambodian education officials have traditionally blamed the situation on low lecturer salaries but Ung Iluot, the minister for education, said the wealthy parents of some students were also guilty.

"I condemn the parents because they are the ones who have the money to buy (the exam results). These are people who say the salary of teachers is too low so we should allow them (to take money) but I say no," the minister added.

Cambodia's education system was destroyed in the 1970s. The guerrilla war from 1970 to 1975 drove much of the rural population into Phnom Penh. Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979 completed the ruin.

Vietnam's invasion toppled Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in January 1979 and efforts began to rebuild the country. But this enormous task was begun in a climate of western isolation in response to the Vietnamese invasion.

Despite continuing difficulties Cambodian students and leaders of student groups have been quick to welcome the minister's very public anti-corruption campaign.

"We are lucky to have minister Ung Iluot who is strongly against corruption. There is hope for the future of Cambodia if Ung Iluot and the ministry continue their activities, not only this year but next year and the year after," said a student leader from Phnom Penh university.

The government wants more Cambodian students to study technical subjects to fill the desperate need for skilled labour to encourage much needed foreign investment.

"We need to train our youngsters to learn technical skills. Students say to me they are scared that after technical training they won't find jobs and I told them I am scared if investment comes into the country I might not be able to find people to work for industry," Ung Iluot said.

During the past 20 years most technical workers fled the country or else were among some one million Cambodians killed by the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s.

There are two technical training colleges in Phnom Penh and one recently opened in the country's northwest but more are needed, the minister said. Education ministry sources estimate that building a working technical school system will cost around $5 million up to the year 2000. For this, and all other countrywide rehabilitation costs, bankrupt Cambodia depends solely on international assistance because there has been very little foreign investment in the country.

Before the devastation of the 1970s and since the post-1979 rebuilding efforts in education, Cambodian students have preferred studying arts and medicine rather than technical subjects, like mechanical engineering, largely because they offered better chances of earning a living, according to aid officials. But this must change if Cambodia is to attract foreign capital, they add.

"I have to ask my students, the young generation to think again because they all want to be doctors and I have to tell them we need technicians," said the minister.

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