Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Educated are Cambodia's 'critical mass'

April 20, 2011
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

My email box has been flooded with messages. Some made me smile. Two hard-hitting messages from Cambodia made me look for some spiritual balance. A friend from a different continent who used to discuss with me the value of education wrote, after reading my columns, about the necessary "critical mass" needed to catalyze change.

I combined all three messages to writing this column.

It's no revelation that if we want to look for something in a person or a regime, negative or positive, we can find it. And we can be sure that there are supporters and critics of any position: A thesis is followed by antithesis. Opposites are a fact of life -- the yin and the yang

I have written about alleged bribes demanded by instructors at Cambodia's universities, but an email from a reader in Cambodia, most likely from a teaching circle, reported also on corrupt practices among primary and secondary school teachers in his area. The writer reported that teachers extort money from students in return for one thing or another. The reader was livid, saying the "authorities concerned" know but do nothing: "I fear if these practices are ingrained in the culture of corruption, the young Cambodian generation will be severely affected in thoughts and behaviors."

Another email, under the rubric, "Cambodian people are living in starvation, except corrupt officials," reads: "Millions of times, millions of words from officials, millions of promises and of plans, but nothing has changed: The rich become richer, the poor become poorer. ... I saw people in my village ... including my parents, go hungry because they can't pay the loans from banks and financial institutions, and are forced to sell their lands and their homes. Some decided to go to Thailand for work. My parents and their neighbors used to live without worries, but now they are miserable. At each election, money was waved in their faces, they needed the money, they voted for the money."

On April 6, I quoted a Cambodian reader's email about the "visible hardware" -- the new buildings, bridges and roads which led 76 percent of respondents in a survey to cheer about progress and development under Premier Hun Sen, as opposed to the lack of much-needed "software" -- informed citizens and critical thinkers. The reader charged that Cambodia's "strong culture of suspicion and mistrust will cripple society even deeper into a passive coma." He lamented, "Even many of the young are now in this unfortunate trend."

Of course, I expected supporters of Premier Hun Sen to vociferously denounce the authors of the emails above. Yet, even Hun Sen agreed that 35 percent of Cambodia's populace live below the poverty line, and rights groups continue to accuse government officials of stealing the nation's resources for personal gain.

Critical mass

In physics, a "critical mass" refers to necessary amount of fissionable material to maintain a chain reaction at a constant rate.

Buddha's truth of the inevitability of change means that at a certain point or time or situation, change occurs, and that "something" must reach a certain level, amount or size, and then it will unleash an activity or event that will change the status quo. Thus, the water that is hot at 211 degrees boils at 212. It produces steam; steam yields energy. [KI-Media Note: water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius]

My friend reminded me: You need a "critical mass" to bring about change, sustain it and render it long-lasting. Amen.

As I examined statistics compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund, I saw vicious circles that should drive conscientious citizens to coalesce to create that critical mass. UNICEF reported Cambodia's net secondary school enrollment for 2005-2009 for males at 36 percent and females at 32 percent -- a net secondary school enrollment ratio of 34 percent.

This refers to students who are actually enrolled in school. How many of them actually attend (Cambodia's schools are open only a few hours per day) or how many actually graduate from secondary school are different problems.

Though unlikely, let's assume that 90 percent of young Cambodians who are enrolled in secondary school do graduate. That's only 90 percent of the total 34 percent enrolled.

To develop quality thinking to contribute to Cambodia's development and progress, we should want to know how many graduates go on to university. Let's assume that half of the graduates (which is, again, very unlikely) go to university. Statistically, half of the 90 percent of the total enrollees of 34 percent yields about 15 percent who may go to university. Of course, not everyone of those who go to university graduates, but let's say 70 percent do. This would yield about 10 percent of a certain age group who might be considered educated.

This is hardly a "critical mass" to bring change to Cambodia.

No room for despair

Even if the Hun Sen regime returned all the dollars from theft of national resources to the education pot, it would take a long, long time before young Cambodians' secondary school net enrollment would move from the current dismal 34 percent of eligible students to even 80 percent, which might be the percentage that would create the catalyst to foment meaningful change.

Until then, Cambodians will have to rely on the handful of educated individuals and independent non-governmental organizations -- a small "critical" group to swim against the current to inspire the young ones in the face of corruption, violations of rights and freedom, to want to go to school, to stay in school, to graduate.

They are the "critical mass" needed to effect the change!

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at

Labels: , ,

Powered by Blogger

 Home   |   About Us   |   Submit URL or Your Company Address First Launched: 08/15/95 - Copyright © 2010 Cambodian Information Center. All rights reserved.