During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, lasting from 1975-1979, education in Cambodia experienced a dramatic setback as schools were destroyed and teachers and educators were executed. In the aftermath of this destructive period, Cambodia attempted to rebuild its education system. But today, only about half of school-age children are enrolled.
The Khmer Rouge, led by Marxist politician Pol Pot, came into power in 1975, when their army took hold of Cambodia’s capital and overthrew the former government. This time in history became known as “Year Zero,” a term derived from the new calendar set in place during the French Revolution. The regime became known for its repressive actions, paranoid ideology, and most importantly, widespread, systematic cruelty.
With the agenda of pursuing an agrarian ideal, the Khmer Rouge led the Cambodian genocide, expelling foreigners, minorities and anyone who resisted the government. The execution grounds — where over a million victims were killed and buried — were called the “killing fields,” and many who toiled in the farms also died from starvation or being overworked.
Intellectuals were seen as dissidents and often specifically targeted, and schools were frequently closed. Children were viewed as blank slates who could easily be manipulated to adhere to Khmer Rouge ideology. After the Khmer Rouge were driven out of Cambodia, the model of education in Cambodia had to be completely recreated from scratch, and schools very slowly began to reemerge in society.
Non-Profit Organizations in Cambodia
Non-profit organizations have helped to support the growth of Cambodia’s children by offering opportunities for education. The organization Tassel acknowledges that the country is still recovering from the trauma of the Khmer Rouge and faces setbacks such as poverty and the challenge of rebuilding itself socially.
Tassel offers children in rural areas free English language education, giving them the skills to read textbooks and sustain jobs later in life. Tassel operates in accordance with its values of compassion and quality, as well as with its volunteer-based structure. The program strives to lift Cambodia out of a darkened past when teachers were persecuted, in hopes of reconstructing the school system.
Programs such as Aziza’s Place, a non-profit learning and development center, enhance the development of underprivileged children in Phnom Penh. Founded in 2007, the organization holds tutoring sessions to support students who have missed school, helping them to gain footing in public schools. Aziza’s Place also provides English language lessons and computer classes, where children can learn to use Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop.
In addition, children have the opportunity to study the arts and participate in sports. Other programs such as Tuk Tuk for Children strive to bring children in rural Cambodia education, sanitation and entertainment. Tuk Tuk recognizes that many youngsters have to work to support their families, a reality that can interfere with their academic and social growth.
The organization hosts Tuk Tuk Theatre, which brings children fun activities and informal education on topics such as geography, yoga and sanitation. The group also created Tuk Tuk Mobile Library, a system that circulates books through six different preschools.
Education in Cambodia
The efforts of non-profits such as Tassel, Aziza’s Place and Tuk Tuk for Children have helped to restore vibrancy to the lives of children and provide them with educational opportunities. Cambodia is a country grappling with a harsh history, brought about by the destructive rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Under this regime, the education system was toppled, intellectuals were executed and schools were wiped out. Since this period, the nation has rebuilt its education system entirely from scratch. Organizations that support education in Cambodia have helped to offer the country a new direction in its children’s growth and, hopefully, a brighter future.
– Shira Laucharoen